Representatives from several unions came together last week at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network before members of the ethnic press to discuss the unions’ stance on the upcoming midterm elections. Hector Figueroa, secretary treasurer for 32BJ; Odemola Oyefeso, political director for RWDSU; Leo Casey of the United Federation of Teachers; and Wanda Williams, political action director of DC37, all weighed in on the positions of their unions.
On the heels of the recent One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, which brought out hundreds of thousands of union members, panelists at the discussion emphasized the need to put words into action by heading to the polls and letting their voices be heard in November.
Issues during the discussion included pensions, the need for advocacy for immigrant union members, mobilization in the political process by unions and the need for more jobs.
“It’s time for unions to mobilize,” said Oyefeso. “People need to come out and vote, and voters need to understand the issues. This year, it’s not about personalities, it’s about issues.”
While all of the representatives agreed that they will not be endorsing Carl Paladino in the gubernatorial race, they are weary of Andrew Cuomo as a choice. Casey said that now the real conflict is between Wall Street and the working class.
“Unions will never be able to match Wall Street,” he said. “But dollar for dollar, Wall Street doesn’t have the power that unions have.”
While that UFT has refused to endorse either Cuomo or Paladino in the race for governor, the other three unions have rallied their support behind the Democratic frontrunner. Figueroa said that it’s time to “get back to basics” when it comes to political involvement for unions. 32BJ members are being encouraged to vote Row E, the Working Families Party.
“Labor unions cannot make money by being bought,” he said. “We have to participate in the political process.”
Williams said that in order for politicians to get solid support from unions, they must take the focus off of the mainstream sector. In an effort to get members involved in the political process, she said massive phone banks have been set up to reach members of DC37.
“There has been an assault on the public sector and unions,” Williams said. “We want to level the playing field.”