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We must elect leaders who will help workers

32Bj | , Hector Figueroa President | 6/20/2013, 3:44 p.m. | Updated on 7/2/2013, 12:48 p.m.
Paid sick days legislation a victory for people of color and working New Yorkers

Most New Yorkers are aware that our city will elect a new mayor this year. Whether we get a leader who will take a progressive path on issues like education, stop-and-frisk, union contracts, economic development and job creation is up to the people of New York.

The September primary election may seem far away, but it is never too early to stress the importance of voting. Our country was founded on the principles of democracy and the notion that government must be, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "by the people, for the people."

Our union, 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, is deeply involved in advocating for the issues that affect all working men and women, mobilizing workers to vote and coordinating efforts to spread the word about the importance of going to the polls.

Incredibly, millions of New Yorkers do not exercise this most basic right. A U.S. Census Bureau report found that one-third of the roughly 175 million eligible Americans did not vote in the 2008 presidential elections.

Closer to home, a Campaign Finance Board report found that the 2009 New York City mayoral election had the lowest turnout since 1969--only 29 percent of the 4.1 million registered voters cast a ballot.

This is discouraging because voting is the only way to elect leaders who will take us on the right course. Whether it's workplace rights, immigration reform, wage standards, health care or education, the decisions politicians make affect every aspect of our lives. We must elect leaders who have the best interests of working families at the top of their agenda. If we don't, the elections and issues are won by corporations and the rich, who have unlimited resources to influence the political process.

We also take seriously our goal to educate and engage our members and working people on the issues. We're not just building a bloc of voters to cast ballots on Election Day; we want to build a movement of informed New Yorkers who talk to their co-workers, family members and community about the issues important to them.

These efforts are connected to a long-term plan to get working people's voices heard and elect leaders who will help workers, not hurt us, leaders who will advocate for us and not try to balance budgets on the backs of working people.

This year, our union will recruit and train 1,000 of our strongest member leaders who, in turn, will mobilize and engage thousands of other members. Our goal is to get 5,000 workers out on the streets for the September primary, the November election and the days and months that follow. We will recruit and train 200 more members to be neighborhood captains, who will organize door-to-door canvasses and candidate meet-and-greets, among other things. We will focus in three to five priority areas per borough to make sure worker voices are heard this fall.

We believe that through politics, elections and legislation--led and driven by working people, people of color and immigrants--we will ensure that New York remains a vibrant, growing city for all New Yorkers.