Not All Our Activists Are Democrats

December 16, 2016

Republican members also have a voice in our union.

1199SEIU has long been a leader in campaigns for pro-worker policies and politicians. As such, the overwhelming majority of its political endorsements have gone to members of the Democratic Party.

Such an environment often leaves Republican members feeling left out. The last issue of this publication carried letters from two members who opposed the Union’s endorsement of Secretary Hillary Clinton and its characterization of Donald Trump supporters.

The Union leadership has always encouraged the broadest membership participation, and Article III, Section 2 (c) of the 1199SEIU Constitution states: “There shall be full respect for all differences of opinion, and all members shall have full freedom of expression.”

Activists and delegates are not required or even expected to register for any political party. Nor does the Union reserve its support or endorsement for Democrats alone.

“We have no permanent friends, only permanent interests,” leaders of the Union often say. Throughout its history, 1199 has worked with and has endorsed politicians in both major parties.

The Union’s struggles—including major strikes—in the late 1950s and early 1960s led to legislation that extended collective bargaining rights to workers in New York City’s nonprofit hospitals. That historic legislation was signed by New York Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, whom the Union had endorsed in 1962.

In more recent times, 1199SEIU endorsed New York Republican Gov. George Pataki in 2002. “Gov. Pataki has been incredibly helpful to healthcare unions,” then 1199SEIU Pres. Dennis Rivera said at the time.

1199SEIU’s support for office seekers is based solely on each candidate’s willingness to support policies in the interest of members and working people. At the workplaces, members generally use the same criteria to select delegates.

“I’m a registered Republican, but I see my Union as a family in which members can belong to either party,” says Ivannie Cartamil, a unit secretary at Kendall Regional Hospital near Miami, FL.

Like Cartamil, a large percentage of 1199ers, particularly in the more rural regions, are registered Republicans.

Cartamil, who has been a Republican since she was 18, has been a delegate for more than six years. She came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1982. She believes in the right to bear arms. She is a Catholic, but also believes in a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy.

“I also want a good safe working environment,” she says. “All workers deserve a decent life and a living wage. I support the $15 minimum.”

Cartamil has walked Union picket lines and lobbied Republican legislators. She also has met informally with other Republican members of SEIU, 1199SEIU’s parent union.

“I’m socially liberal, but I’m also a registered Republican,” says Neal Nicholaides, a 30-year HVAC mechanic at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, MA. “I’ve also been a shop steward or Union delegate for most of my working life,” he says.

“I don’t consider myself a political activist, but I do understand the importance of our Union’s Political Action Fund and I urge members to contribute regardless of their political affiliation.” His outspokenness and ability to relate to co-workers and management has won him respect from members and administrators.

Nicholaides cites his strong support for the Second Amendment—the right to bear arms—and his belief in limited government as his reasons for his party affiliation. “I also firmly believe in individual freedoms,” he says.

Roanna Abborino, a nurse practitioner at Krause Hospital in Syracuse, NY, has been a Republican all her life and a Union delegate for the last 10 years. Abborino’s mother and maternal grandfather also were Republicans. “My mother really looked up to my grandfather,” Abborino says, noting that like Cartamil, she enrolled in the party of her parents.

She’s proud that her mother, a single parent, worked hard and raised two children. “I value honesty and the work ethic, but I also believe union’s should get involved in politics to fight for workers’ rights. Women’s rights are also important to me,” she says.

Although a Republican, she did not support Donald Trump. “I don’t believe he represents Republican values,” Abborino stresses. “My allegiance is to my country, not to any party.”

The 1199SEIU Republicans interviewed agree that strong unions are essential for improving the lot of working people. And Union leaders stress that unions are essential to defending and extending our democracy and curbing the power of the one percent.

1199 leaders have urged members in all the Union districts—regardless of party affiliation—to join hands with their traditional allies and to press on to unite our nation and to realize the 1199SEIU Action Platform— good jobs, economic justice, quality healthcare for all, rights, democracy and a healthy planet.