One of the faces of American labor is calling it quits.
Gerald McEntee, longtime president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, announced Thursday he will retire next year after his current term ends, shaking up the state of unions in America.
“Next year will mark my 54th year as a member of AFSCME, and my 31st year as the president of our great union,” he said in a statement. “I am writing to let you know that I will not be a candidate for another term as president at our June 2012 convention in Los Angeles.”
“I want to thank all of you for the support, love and friendship you have shown to me and my family during these many years that I have had the honor of leading our great union,” he continued. “I look forward to continuing to work with you in the days and months ahead, and I will always be proud of the work we have done and the obstacles we have overcome during these past decades of challenge and opportunity.”
Business groups aren’t holding back any tears.
“Good riddance to the architect of Big Labor ‘payback,’ ” Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute, said in a statement.
The bid to replace him could turn into a battle between secretary-treasurer Lee Saunders, No. 2 in the union, and Danny Donohue, the union’s New York leader.
There was speculation Mr. Saunders would take over as interim president until the union’s next vote in June. Mr. McEntee shot that idea down, indicating he will complete his final term as president.
That will leave Mr. Saunders to compete against Mr. Donohue for the coveted union leadership spot. If Mr. Donohue were elected, he might not throw as much money at congressional Democrats as has been the case under Mr. McEntee’s guidance.
Mr. McEntee pointed to some of the causes the union has championed during the course of its 75-year history. They fought for the right of collective bargaining, for equality in the workplace regardless of age, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. They also fought to hold Wall Street accountable.
“I have always believed that the mission of AFSCME is to achieve great things: for our members, for all workers and for our nation,” he said. “Together, over the decades, we have done just that.”
“We have made our union a driving force for economic and social justice throughout the nation. When we pull together and are united in a fight, nobody can defeat us. When we fight, we win. And when we win, the lives of working people in this country improve.”