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Mobile's Role in Electing Labor's Next Big Leader

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, June 28 2010

Photo Credit: Massachusetts Convention Center Authority

AFSCME has gathered in Boston this week for the union giant's annual convention at which delegates will vote to elect a new International Secretary-Treasurer who will, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote earlier this year, be "one of the most powerful labor leaders in the land," particularly as President Gerald McEntee's current term wraps up in 2012. A source on the ground in Boston reports that one candidate for the hugely important leadership spot in the union of public employees and health workers, Lee Saunders, is doing some intriguing things with mobile organizing in his bid to win this week's hotly contested special election at the Boston Convention Center. The last American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees' Secretary-Treasurer, Bill Lucy, is seen to have announced his retirement in Februrary to be timed for the start of the annual convention in a bid to stick it to McEntee, by putting the vote to the attending delegates of the AFL-CIO-affiliated union rather than leaving the pick to union leadership. Lucy has endorsed New York labor leader Danny Donohue.

But Saunders, McEntee's chief of staff, seems eager to turn that vindictive move into an on-the-ground organizing opportunity. He's aggressively signing up delegates by mobile phone number, says the source. And he's begun using that growing list to build momentum around his campaign, with the final vote for the Secretary scheduled to happen later this week. The 39th International AFSCME Convention opened last night, and Saunders is making use of the traditional visibility and organizing techniques -- fliers, "thundersticks." But, says the source, appeals to join the Saunders mobile texting list are all over the convention.

Texts going out from the Saunders camp include messages like asking recipients to grab the closest Saunders supporter and get him or her to text their number to the list. With just a few thousand delegates deciding the critical election in real time, an organic mobile list of even a few hundred folks could be a critical asset. And, points out the source, this isn't a convention where people are lugging around laptops.