Leftist group honors ‘Progressive Champion’ union boss


By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org

A union-funded nonprofit this week honored Lee Saunders, who has been paid more than $1 million in union dues since 2011, with a “Progressive Champion” award.

CAF uses union money to push for bigger government

Saunders received a gross salary of $297,283 as president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in 2013. Including compensation for expenses and other disbursements reported to the U.S. Department of Labor, AFSCME paid Saunders a total of $350,058 last year.

Campaign for America’s Future presented Saunders and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio with Progressive Champion awards Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Hosted by CAF and sister nonprofit Institute for America’s Future, tickets to the “Celebrating America’s Future” gala cost $175.

CAF describes itself asthe strategy center for the progressive movement,” and was part of the steering committee for the union coalition that helped pass Obamacare. Since 2005, CAF has received $485,000 from AFSCME, including payments of $75,000 in 2012 and $50,000 in 2013.

“Lee Saunders, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is one of the country’s leading advocates for public services and the men and women who provide them,” a CAF event summary said.

Although Saunders is certainly one of the nation’s leading advocates of big government, a review of Department of Labor filings reveals AFSCME has not had 1.6 million members at any point in the past 15 years. The union reported membership totaling 1,378,937 at the end of 2013.

In an Oct. 6 CAF announcement of Saunders’s selection for a Progressive Champion award, Isaiah J. Poole labeled Saunders “a drum major for justice,” describing him as a modern-day Martin Luther King Jr.

“Impassioned in defense of his members, Saunders is also powerfully on the offensive for working people everywhere, driving the effort to lift the minimum wage, to guarantee sick days and paid family leave, to revive the right to organize and bargain collectively, to insist that the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes, to insure that every child has a world-class education,” Poole wrote.

In a June 2013 CAF blog post, Poole summarized a Huffington Post column by Saunders in which Saunders asserted “one of the keys to boosting a stagnant middle class is making it easier for workers to form labor unions.” In August, CAF released a report titled, “Inequality: Rebuilding the Middle Class Requires Reviving Strong Unions.”

Asked whether the fact Saunders was paid $350,058 in 2013 had any bearing on his Progressive Champion award, a CAF spokesman replied with a complaint about CEOs.

“I’m not aware of the details of his salary,” CAF Digital Director Trevor Davis said in an email to Watchdog.org. “I do know that the average income for a Fortune 500 CEO is over $12 million. I only mention this because I want to applaud your attention to income inequity in the United States. On average CEOs make 260 times that of an average worker, compared to just 20 times in 1965.”

Davis proceeded to cite figures from an IRS filing from Watchdog.org’s parent company, speculating about Franklin Center donors and adding, “The words pot, kettle and black come to mind, no?”

AFSCME is funded by dues and fees taken directly from government workers — not all of them willing contributors. The union took mandatory fees from 130,920 public employees in 2013.

AFSCME did not respond to a request for comment.