August 20, 2018

Member activists answer call to change nation’s course.

purplewave.jpgThroughout the Union’s regions, 1199ers are answering the call to mobilize voters to beat back the political assault on working people.

“When I saw what was happening to our health care, I couldn’t sit still,” says Shadice Blue, a patient access representative at Brooklyn’s Wyckoff Hospital. Blue is one of scores of 1199ers working between now and November to help oust anti-labor politicians from Congress and state houses across the nation.

“We can’t let them destroy what our predecessors fought so hard to build,” agrees Tresha Thompson, a Bronx Montefiore Hospital patient care tech who, in addition to being a political activist, was a member of the Union negotiating committee that in July won an outstanding contract with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Nursing Homes.

“I’m a political activist for the same reason that I’m a delegate,” she says, drawing parallels between her contract fight and the electoral struggles. “I realize that I have to do my part to make us all stronger.”

Blue, Thompson and scores of New York Member Political Organizers (MPOs) and activists have been hitting the streets, knocking on doors and making calls to get out the vote for the September 13 state primaries as they did for the Congressional primaries in June. They’re supporting the Democratic Party line headed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has stood with the Union and workers through countless battles, and New York City Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James, another long-time friend of the Union, in her bid for New York State Attorney General. (If elected, James would become the first African American to hold the post.)

MarilynMosby_Bal.jpgA big turnout in the primaries and general election in November will go a long way towards strengthening national opposition to far-right policies attacking health care, racial justice, education, immigration, women’s rights, voting rights, the environment and a host of other issues. A purple-propelled Blue Wave could flip a critical handful of Congressional seats and wrest control of the U.S. House of Representatives from extremists who have been far too willing to do the president’s bidding.

Turnout will also be the decider of several important gubernatorial contests outside New York, including in Maryland and Florida, and Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is making a serious bid to be the country’s first Black woman governor.

In Maryland, Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., is seeking to become the state’s first African American governor. Jealous won big in the June primary. 1199SEIU was among several organizations that urged the civil rights leader to enter the race. The Union was also a major player in Maryland Together We Rise, an independent expenditure campaign advocating for Jealous.

A Baltimore Sun article following the primaries noted that “The SEIU is a force” in Maryland politics. The Sun reported that not only was SEIU a major factor in Jealous’s victory, but also in the victory of other progressive candidates.

“It’s good to have a candidate who really knows us and understands our issues,” says Tara Johnson, a housekeeper at Westgate Hills Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Baltimore. Johnson knocked on doors and phone banked for Jealous and other 1199-endorsed candidates. “I’ve never seen our city in such bad shape,” Johnson says. “We desperately need affordable housing, rent control and a $15 minimum wage. “I think as governor, Ben will work to take care of our city.”

1199ers in Maryland are also working for the re-election of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who faced fierce opposition for bringing charges against the six Baltimore police officers in the 2015 death of young African American Freddie Gray.

In another Union win, Veronica Turner, a former leader of 1199SEIU MD/DC and Maryland House of Delegates member, won the nomination for State Delegate in Maryland’s District 26, which is in Prince George’s County. Maryland 1199ers are supporting Turner and working alongside progressive allies on behalf of Maryland Senate nominees Antonio Hayes and Cory McCray.

“Cory McCray is an especially gifted legislator and he will be a fighter for all workers,” says Shaniqua Covington, Johns Hopkins Hospital operating room associate. 1199SEIU’s Florida district is working closely with its SEIU State Council and other strategic allies on statewide turnout operations, including campaigns to flip two congressional districts. The Florida State Council recently joined local and statewide community groups to host South Florida’s first Democratic gubernatorial debate—The Florida Freedom Forum.

The Forum explored issues such as education, institutional and implicit bias, access to quality, lowcost health care, and the right to a fair wage. The event spoke directly to the plight of members such as Dukins Delinois, a CNA at Consulate Healthcare of West Palm Beach.

“It’s not right that Florida workers providing care to patients can’t afford health care of their own,” says Delinois. “I’ve worked as a CNA for 17 years and I don’t have coverage. When I get sick, I have to figure out some way to take care of myself. We need to change this.”

A Democrat has not won a Florida gubernatorial election since 1994. The winner of this year’s contest will have a hand in a host of initiatives critical to Florida’s future including healthcare access for 1.8 million Floridians, union rights for thousands of Florida homecare workers, and living wages for airport workers and adjunct professors. At stake nationally is the crucial redistricting process following the 2020 Census.

The 100,000 Puerto Rican (and largely Democratic) voters who moved to the state after Hurricane Maria could tip the state’s electoral scales to Blue. MPO Eva Nolasco, a Latino Caucus member and an endotech at Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, reflects the spirit of the Purple Wave.

“It’s terrible how so many people are being treated today, like they’re not even human beings: having their voting rights taken away, separation of families, deportations. It’s sad and affects you personally, so we’re working to make changes by knocking on doors, making phone calls and anything else we can do,” she said.

“One encouraging part of this is how many young people are getting involved to help get out the vote.”