2004 AFSCME INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION
JUNE 21-25, 2004
"I don't cross picket lines. I never have." ~Senator John Kerry
- Sen. Kerry cancelled a speech at a major meeting of U.S. mayors rather than cross a picket line of firefighters and police who have been working in Boston without a contract--some as long as two years.
2,000 AFSCME Members Marched for a Fair Contract for Service Workers at UCI Medical Center on June 23, 2004: IRVINE, CA — Two-thousand members of the nation’s largest public service employees union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, marched at the University of California Irvine (UCI) Medical Center in support of service workers fighting for a fair contract and improved patient care.
AFSCME Local 3299 represents 17,000 employees at the University of California’s five hospitals and nine campuses. UC medical centers earned $165 million in profits last year — UCI’s medical center’s profit alone was $34 million. But UC management refuses to settle a contract with its 7,000 low-wage service workers around the state, including 500 employed at the UCI campus and medical center. The workers are seeking improvements in patient care, a chance to advance — through education, training and promotions and their first pay increase since 2002. They are mostly immigrants and people of color, many of whom work full-time yet earn poverty-level wages cleaning floors, serving food and maintaining grounds. A food server at UC Irvine earns $8.35/hour, less than $17,500 a year.
The rally took place during AFSCME’s 36th International Convention June, 2004 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
AFSCME is the nation’s fastest growing public service employees union with 1.4 million members. AFSCME organizes for social and economic justice in the workplace and through political action and legislative advocacy. AFSCME represents a diverse group of service and health care employees in the public and private sectors including nurses, EMTs, bus drivers, child care workers, custodians and librarians.
Former President Meets Many Friends of Bill at Union Meeting
It was like a rock concert for politically minded groupies.
"We love you, Bill, we love you!" the women screamed Friday afternoon.
President Clinton just waved and grinned to the crowd of
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
gathered in the Anaheim Convention Center for their 36th
biennial union convention.
As Clinton blitzed around the state on his book tour, he stopped by the convention to pay homage to the labor union's 1.4 million members, who have long been supporters of Democratic presidential candidates.
"You guys calm down," Clinton said, walking to the lectern. "You'll have me thinking I'm president again."
As the crowd waved Clinton's new 900-page book, "My Life," above their heads, he joked about its size.
"I've gotten a lot of ribbing about this long book, but I've had a long life," he said. Then he turned to page 400, where he wrote about the union and gave a shout out to the members who he said helped get him elected in 1992 and then re-elected. Then he got down to business: endorsing Sen. John F. Kerry for president.
"I hope you are ready for another tough fight," Clinton said. "As you've seen, 3 1/2 years can make a big difference in … America."
The crowd cheered and disposable cameras flashed as Clinton said he was embarrassed that children had lost after-school programs to fund President Bush's tax break — just as soldiers weren't receiving combat pay and police officers were losing their jobs.
Earlier in the day, civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke about what he considered the perils facing the working class and their families.
Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, urged the crowd to get back to its labor roots and support its minority members.
With a standing ovation, the crowd took up his cry.
Three hours later, they were still cheering — for Clinton.
People standing pressed at least 10 deep against a flimsy rope barricade applauded Clinton's words and quietly debated whether they could jockey into position to shake his hand.
"You'd better stop looking at my man, he's looking at me," Gloria Unterburger, of California Local 3090, joked with fellow union member Sharon Calhoun, in from Toledo, Ohio.
"The next time he looks over here, I'm going to wink my eye," Unterburger said.
As Clinton wrapped up his speech and headed from the lectern to the people waiting for his autograph, Calhoun said Clinton had persuaded her to support Kerry.
But as the former president neared, Calhoun's mind shifted from her political concerns. Next to her, New Yorker Zela Scott, vice president of Local 205, readied her book for an autograph.
"Zela, Z-E-L-A," Scott told Clinton. "Z-E-L-A."
ANAHEIM – Sen. John Kerry found his core voter base at the Convention Center here on Thursday, when 5,000 labor union members gathered and were urged by the Democratic presidential candidate to hit the streets on his behalf.
"It is the most important election of our lifetime," he told the national gathering of public-service employees.
Kerry repeatedly celebrated the middle-class worker and painted President George W. Bush as a crony of the wealthy – and he was repeatedly interrupted by standing ovations from the sea of union delegates clad in green Kerry campaign T-shirts.
"Tax giveaways for billionaires don't teach any children, don't nurse our sick," he said, vowing to roll back tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000, as well as ending tax breaks for some businesses. "We are going to close the tax loopholes that help companies send jobs overseas and reward the companies that are creating good jobs right here."
The afternoon event was on the second day of a two-day campaign swing through California. Thursday morning, former Chrysler head Lee Iacocca announced his endorsement of Kerry while the candidate was in the Silicon Valley touting plans to create more high-tech jobs and universal broadband Internet access.
Iacocca, who endorsed Bush in 2000, said: "We need a new CEO." He embraced Kerry as the candidate who could ensure the country is on the cutting edge technologically.
The scheduled finale of Kerry's visit was a Thursday night fund-raising concert in Los Angeles featuring Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, who hadn't performed together in more than 20 years.
Polls show Kerry tied or having a slight lead over Bush nationwide, although they also show that his backers are often more turned off by Bush than inspired by the Democrat. The phenomenon was apparent to some extent at the Anaheim event, a convention of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"My No. 1 goal is to get Bush out of office," said Carlene Hawkins, a secretary employed by state of Illinois, before Kerry took the stage. "My position is more about Bush than Kerry."
But by the end of Kerry's 46-minute speech, the Massachusetts senator had become attractive to Hawkins in his own right.
"I feel much more strongly about him because of the specifics," Hawkins said, adding that she particularly liked Kerry's comments about the war in Iraq.
"The United States of America," Kerry said, "should never go to war because it wants to. It should only go to war because it has to."
Still in search of a campaign slogan, Kerry quoted a Langston Hughes poem beginning with, "Let America be America again," and then, lingering on the idea of the last line said, "Bring back America's mighty dream again.
"That's why we're here," Kerry said. "To bring back America's mighty dream again."
Kerry called for affordable health care for all, a more affordable prescription-drug plan for seniors and legal importation of prescription drugs from Canada, where they are less expensive. He also denounced a plan to privatize Social Security.
But he spent the most time on the economy and the need for more – and better paying – jobs in the United States. He bemoaned the loss of 1.9 million jobs in the past four years, and was dismissive of the 1.4 million jobs created in the past eight months, saying they paid far less than those that were lost.
Bush spokesman Danny Diaz brushed aside Kerry attacks, saying that Bush inherited a recession and has had to overcome the Sept. 11 attacks and the technology bust.
"Sen. Kerry's pessimistic rhetoric will not create a single job," Diaz said. "The president's positive vision for America has resulted in opportunities for families and has continued to move this country forward economically."
On the other side of the political spectrum is Stanley Robinson, who works in a San Diego landfill and was one of the few conventioneers Thursday not wearing a green "AFSCME for Kerry" shirt.
"Kerry hasn't done enough to distinguish himself from Bush," said the 53-year-old former Black Panther. "He's part of the same politics."
Robinson voted for Al Gore in 2000, but said he might cast his lot with Ralph Nader this time.
But most of those on hand were enthusiastic Kerry backers.
"He's somebody who can reach across party lines and he's not beholden to wealthy and corporate special interests, like Bush," said Danny Coyle, a retired property manager for the state of Nevada.
Hawkins was among conventioneers who fondly recalled the times of Bill Clinton's presidency. Numerous attendees sported buttons that read, "When Clinton lied, nobody died."
Clinton, in California to promote his book released this week, is scheduled to speak at the convention today.