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PEP Dec 2006
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  Public Employee Press

A new beginning

  
 The election creates a favorable political climate for us to forge ahead with our agenda.
 

By LILLIAN ROBERTS
Executive Director
District Council 37, AFSCME

The voters’ resounding rejection of the Bush agenda on Nov. 7 is a sign of hope for working families.

District Council 37 played an important role in the Democratic sweep in New York. Democrats now control New York’s top state offices and two U.S. Senate seats for the first time since the Great Depression.

And across our nation, union activists were arguably the most powerful grassroots force in a political upheaval that resulted in Democratic control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

For our national union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the 2006 general election was a tremendous victory, the result of an aggressive nationwide grassroots mobilization.

Our AFSCME brothers and sisters logged over 8 million telephone calls in the union’s get-out-the-vote effort. Together, we distributed 7 million work site fliers and direct mailings in targeted Congressional districts.

All told, the national union spent $35 million for grassroots work and candidate contributions to support pro-worker candidates and initiatives. And the work paid off. In addition to taking back both houses of Congress, Democrats also won six governorships and seven state legislatures.

Voters also supported all the ballot initiatives in six states to raise the minimum wage. In three states, they rejected so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiatives, schemes to cut government services.

Exit polls showed that opposition to the war in Iraq and outrage over corruption in Washington, D.C., topped the concerns of voters. But there was a positive sense of idealism underneath that discontent, a desire for a wholesale change in direction for the country and a new politics of hope.

The American people, especially union members, want a change from an anti-worker and anti-union political agenda that favors the wealthy and corporations to one that supports the middle class, the poor and seniors.

With the new leadership in Washington, we will have friends in the Senate and House who will raise our issues and concerns. These include hiking the minimum wage, permitting the government to negotiate drug prices, preserving Social Security and Medicare, and making health care affordable for everybody.

Winds of change in New York

The winds of reform are also blowing in New York. By electing state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer as governor, voters chose a politician who embodied the public outrage over the corporate excesses of the Enron era. The end of the anti-labor era of his predecessor, George E. Pataki, creates a more favorable political climate for us to forge ahead with our agenda at home.

We are already busy at work to promote the legislation needed to relax the city’s residency requirement for its employees that we won in our new economic agreement.

Hundreds of DC 37 members and their families have purchased homes thanks to the union’s affordable housing program, which recently marked its first anniversary, and we look forward to helping many more members achieve their dream of becoming homeowners.

We are going to step up our work to help our members find affordable child care. We would like to see the new child care center that DC 37 supported at Bellevue Hospital serve as a model for other on-the-job sites throughout the city. We are looking into additional facilities, and we continue to work closely with the New York Union Child Care Coalition to promote affordable care.

This year, we also want to turn our attention to strengthening the city civil service system, which historically has provided a pathway to the middle class for women and minorities. In particular, we want to address the “one-in-three” rule, which has stymied the advancement of countless workers because it allows management to pick its favorite candidates for the job.

Years ago, I helped DC 37 become a pioneering union in the nation by offering comprehensive education benefits to our members. We established the DC 37 Education Fund and opened a branch of the College of New Rochelle at our own headquarters. More than 3,000 members have earned their bachelor’s degree thanks to the college program.

Today, DC 37 needs to reinvigorate its promotion of career advancement, including helping our own make it into the management ranks.

We have a lot on our plate. But I pledge to you that this union will never take a break from its mission of doing whatever it can to contribute to raising the living standards of our members.

We are proud that our army of activists was a key force in the Nov. 7 repudiation of the Bush politics of cynicism. Now it’s up to us to continue our fight for a new politics of hope.

 

 

 

 
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