American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

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AFSCME logo.png
Full name American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
Founded 1932 (1932)
Members 1,378,937 (2013)[1]
Affiliation AFL-CIO
Key people Lee Saunders, president
Office location Washington, D.C.
Country United States
AFSCME members with then-Senator Barack Obama, 2008

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is a major trade union in the United States. It represents approximately 1.5 million workers, most of whom work in the public sector.[2] The union has become known in recent years for its involvement in political campaigns.[3]

AFSCME is part of the AFL-CIO, one of the two main labor federations in the United States. Employees at the federal government level are primarily represented by other unions, such as the American Federation of Government Employees, with which AFSCME was once affiliated, and the National Treasury Employees Union; but AFSCME does represent some federal employees at the Federal Aviation Administration and the Library of Congress, among others.[4]

According to their website, AFSCME organizes for social and economic rights of their protectorates in the workplace and through political action and legislative advocacy. It is divided into more than 3,500 local unions in 46 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Each local union writes its own constitution, holds membership meetings, and elects its own officers. Councils are also a part of AFSCME's administrative structure, usually grouping together various locals in a geographic area.


Membership (US records; ×1000)[5]

Finances (US records; ×$1000)[5]
     Assets      Liabilities      Receipts      Disbursements

AFSCME was founded in 1932 as the Wisconsin State Administrative, Clerical, Fiscal and Technical Employees Association (quickly becoming the Wisconsin State Employees Association) amid fears of the possible elimination of the civil service and a return to patronage jobs. Its driving force and first president was Arnold Zander.

One of its first projects was to protect civil service jobs in Wisconsin after a newly elected Democratic legislature revealed its intention to eliminate Republicans from the civil service. The group succeeded, with assistance from the American Federation of Labor (AFL)[6]

Zander era[edit]

In 1934, AFSCME fell out of favor with the AFL, which incorporated Wisconsin state employees into the American Federation of Government Employees. Against the wishes of AFL President William Green, Zander called for a constitutional convention in Chicago and threatened to join the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations. Zander was elected president of AFSCME at the convention, held in December 1935; the AFL agreed to give AFSMCE a national charter in October 1936.[6]

At this time, AFSCME was primarily a union for white-collar civil service workers. These workers were legally without the right to collectively bargain, let alone strike—rights which Zander did not support[6]

The union grew slowly over the next several decades, gradually changing from an association formed to protect civil service systems to a union interested in collective bargaining.

Wurf and civil rights[edit]

AFSCME was integrated in the 1960s under the presidency of Jerome Wurf, and began to grow more quickly.[7]

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while in Memphis, Tennessee to support a strike by the African-American sanitation workers' union, AFSCME Local 1733. In 1993 a documentary movie was produced, titled At the River I Stand, about the Memphis sanitation workers' strike that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis.[8]

Archival Records[edit]

AFSCME's history is documented through its archives at The Walter P. Reuther Library in Detroit, Michigan.[9] These archives give primary source evidence of AFSCME's internal functions and campaigns through correspondence, publications, meeting minutes, flyers, speeches, reports, photographs, moving images, and more. Materials housed in the archives include Office of the President records from Presidents Zander, Wurf, and McEntee, as well as numerous headquarters departments and personal papers from AFSCME leaders. Some locals have documents housed at the Reuther Library, such as Memphis local 1733 and Detroit local 1259. The archives also hosts online image galleries of hundreds of photographs related to AFSCME's history.


A round graphic featuring a triangle icon with an image of the US capitol building, interspersed with the full name of AFSCME, as well as the acronym of AFL-CIO.

The leadership of AFSCME consists of a president, secretary-treasurer, and an executive board. The President of AFSCME International is Lee A. Saunders. Saunders is a former Executive Assistant to Gerald McEntee, and has served as Administrator of a number of AFSCME councils and large local unions across the country. .[10] He was chosen in an election held June 21, 2012 during the AFSCME International Convention in Los Angeles, California. The presidential candidates were Saunders and Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association (who had been narrowly defeated by Saunders at the 2010 convention election for International Secretary-Treasurer). Saunders won the election with 54% of the votes.[11]

Gerald McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term. McEntee was a vice-president of the AFL-CIO and the chair of the AFL-CIO Political Education Committee.[12][13][14] McEntee announced his retirement in 2012.

For many years the Secretary-Treasurer was William Lucy. Lucy was first elected AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer in May 1972 and was re-elected in June 2008 to his latest four-year term. Lucy was a former President of Local 1675, Contra Costa County Employees Association of Contra Costa County, California, where he was employed for 13 years. Lucy also served as president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).[15]

On February 22, 2010, it was announced that Lucy was retiring in the middle of his four-year term. His successor, Lee A. Saunders, was elected at the July 2010 AFSCME International Convention in Boston, Massachusetts.


Members marching in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street in New York, October 2011
AFSCME members by the US Capitol, 2013

Due to the wave of privatization of public services, AFSCME has long pursued a policy of "following the work": organizing workers who perform work in the public interest, whether the operator is non-profit or commercial. In New York, for example, in February 2006, 1200 employees of Lifespire Inc., a New York City human services agency that provides services to the developmentally disabled, joined the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000, AFSCME’s single biggest affiliate, through a card check campaign.[16]

AFSCME is also currently running campaigns to organize home-based family child care providers. To date AFSCME has been able to secure gubernatorial Executive Order[s] recognizing the union as the representative of home-based child care providers in Wisconsin, Oregon, New York, and Michigan. In New Jersey, Gov. Corzine signed an executive order on August 2, 2006 recoginizing AFSCME and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) as the unions representing child care providers in that state. In Michigan, the Child Care union is known as Child Care Providers Together-Michigan (CCPTM). CCPTM was organized with the help of the United Auto Workers, and the UAW currently represents roughly 40% of CCPTM members. AFSCME also represents child care providers in Franklin and Lucas counties in Ohio.

When Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed an executive order that allowed the providers to collectively bargain with the state, the move launched a turf war,[17] with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) battling AFSCME for the exclusive right to organize the workers. AFSCME argued they would be better suited for negotiating with the state, while the SEIU claimed it already unofficially represented 20,000 of the workers. An independent mediator ruled that the SEIU and not AFSCME should represent nearly 49,000 home child care providers in that state. The mediator found that the SEIU had been trying to organize the workers since 1996, while AFSCME had started just a month earlier. Despite its success in organizing child care providers, AFSCME was rejected.

In California, AFSCME represents the lower paid workforce at all ten campuses of the University of California. The union in 2007 resolved a pay equity dispute that had dogged the University for two years. It led a number of political and entertainment figures to refuse to cross an informational picket for the purpose of giving keynote speeches at graduation ceremonies.

Contributions to political campaigns[edit]

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AFSCME is the United States' largest single contributor to political campaigns, having donated more than US$38 million since 1990.[18] The organization contributes almost exclusively to Democratic Party campaigns; since 1990 the ratio of Democratic to Republican contributions by the AFSCME has exceeded 98:1. In addition to combating the privatization mentioned above, key political objectives for the group include raising the minimum wage and opposing the substitution of vacation time for overtime pay due workers.[18] In June 2008, AFSCME, along with, spent over US$500,000 on a television advertisement critical of the presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain.[19] Funding for political campaigns does not come from union dues, but rather from voluntary member contributions to a political action committee called AFSCME PEOPLE (Public Employees Organized to Promote Legislative Equality).[20]


  1. ^ US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-289. Report submitted March 27, 2014.
  2. ^ 1.6 million according to the Wall Street Journal in 2010; 1.42 million according to UnionFacts in 2011.
  3. ^ Steven Greenhouse, "Afscme Chief to Step Down After 30 Years", New York Times, 3 November 2011.
  4. ^ Washington D.C. Info from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees website
  5. ^ a b US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-289. (Search)
  6. ^ a b c Goulden, Joseph C. (1982). Jerry Wurf: Labor's Last Angry Man (1 ed.). New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-11291-2. 
  7. ^ Honey, Michael K. (2007). "Struggles of the Working Poor". Going down Jericho Road the Memphis strike, Martin Luther King's last campaign (1 ed.). New York [u.a.]: Norton. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-393-04339-6. After Wurf's election as president in 1964, an insurgent group—which included Catholics, Jews, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans—took over. AFSCME integrated its staff, no longer organized white and black workers separately, and began to build a solid core of organizers. 
  8. ^ California Newsreel - AT THE RIVER I STAND
  9. ^ "Walter P. Reuther Library". Wayne State University. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  10. ^ Lee Saunders bio at AFSCME website
  11. ^ "Status Quo Wins Vote In Nation's Largest Public Workers Union" International Business Times June 22, 2012
  12. ^ The rise of AFSCME as public employee union with clout
  13. ^ " News". Bloomberg. 
  14. ^ AFSCME - AFSCME Takes Largest AFL-CIO Delegation to the Democratic National Convention
  15. ^ William Lucy bio at AFSCME website
  16. ^ AFSCME - Across the Nation
  17. ^ Meyerson, Harold. "Labor War in Illinois: The AFL-CIO's two largest unions duke it out and SEIU comes out on top." The American Prospect March 29, 2005 (web only)
  18. ^ a b Center for Responsive Politics retrieved 21 June 2007
  19. ^ "The Swamp: John McCain vs. baby in anti-war ad". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  20. ^ AFSCME PEOPLE website

External links[edit]