1199SEIU members from across New Jersey filled a banquet hall in Newark, NJ, on September 18th to take part in one of the union’s most important occasions—the swearing-in of the delegates who will serve as the rank-and-file leadership of 1199SEIU for the next three years.

Being the front-line leaders of 1199SEIU, delegates play a critical role in building the union and solving workplace issues by organizing members to take collective action. “As delegates, we encourage our co-workers to stand up for what’s fair,” explained Tamika Woody, a CNA at Aristacare at Alameda Center in Perth Amboy, NJ. “The bottom line is that it’s important to have someone in your corner—to solve both the big problems and the small problems that come up.”

Among the speakers who addressed the gathering was Paulette Johnson, a CNA at Regency Heritage Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Somerset, NJ. “We are here, ladies and gentlemen, because we are committed to a cause. We, as union members, need to be leaders in order to make things happen at work and in our communities. We are a voice not just for ourselves but for all caregivers and working people!”

The atmosphere in the room was both celebratory and determined as Paulette introduced Milly Silva, 1199SEIU’s Executive Vice President for New Jersey who is running to become the Lt. Governor, alongside gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono.

“Time and time again, we as 1199SEIU have been the ones who’ve stood up and said the things that need to be said—whether it is about fighting for civil rights, whether it is about fighting for economic justice, whether it’s fighting to make sure that healthcare workers have the respect and dignity that we deserve,” said Silva.

“The reason why I think tonight is so incredible is that what we face in the days ahead is going to be a test of who we are as a union,” Silva continued, referring to the work that needs to be done to get out the vote for the November 5th election. “It is going to be a challenge for each and every one of us to be at our best—to lead at the moment when we are most needed and to make sure that we are seen and we are heard.”

Elected leaders from across the state attended the event to show their gratitude for the contributions that 1199SEIU members bring to New Jersey, both as caregivers and as committed social activists. Present were Senator Barbara Buono, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, Assemblyman Tom Giblin, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, and Newark Councilwoman Mildred Crump.

As the keynote speaker, Speaker Oliver gave a rousing call-to-action for electing candidates who will be responsive to the needs of working families. “Every generation is supposed to do better than the next, but that’s not what is going on in New Jersey today,” she said. “We are doing worse than our parents and grandparents before us. There is a war going on, and that war is directed at us—working-class people. The way we start to change this thing around is by working hard—and I mean hard—to elect Barbara Buono and Milly Silva!”

Drawing parallels between the governor’s race in New Jersey and the unexpected victory of Bill de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary in New York City, Oliver cautioned not to let “the pundits, the newspapers, the talking heads on television tell you that this is a done deal. It’s not a done deal. If we have learned anything in the past month, it is that it doesn’t matter which newspapers or TV channels endorse you. What is most important is for the people of New Jersey to endorse you.” 1199SEIU members and delegates agreed, and erupted in roaring applause.

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