The steward as political organizer
Many of our rights and benefits are negotiated at the bargaining table and included in our contracts. Much of your role is making sure that contract is enforced at the workplace.
But nowadays our communities are bigger than they used to be, major changes happen almost overnight, and no person or organization can exist as an island. Like it or not, society is more and more interdependent all the time, and so are we.
A lot of what all workers have today (overtime pay, food and drug laws, Medicare, Social Security, health and safety regulations, even the public education system) we wouldn't have had without political action by organized labor.
As a steward, sooner or later you'll be working with coalition partners. Which, depending where you are, can be almost anybody--other unions, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, community activists, ethnic groups, social or charitable organizations, political coalitions, whatever.
There are many rights and benefits that are determined by laws passed at the national, state, or local level. To protect our members' interests, the union must be involved in electing candidates who will pass and enforce laws which will increase and protect our rights and benefits.
That will not happen without you.
Many SEIU members are public employees, or work in positions funded through government agencies, so politics is especially important to us. When politicians cut services, everyone loses the services, but some of us lose our jobs.
Our success in building a strong political organization that stands up for our members' interests depends on you and your ability to mobilize our members. SEIU depends on you, the steward, to get the workers involved in political and legislative action. You know the members, you see them every day at work, and you're persuasive enough to get things rolling (or you wouldn't be a steward).
Think of what you can do at your workplace or in your community that will make a difference.
- Register voters. It's simple. If you aren't registered, you can't vote. Learn the procedure for voter registration in your district. Then act to make sure your members register. Better yet, recruit members to participate in a voter registration drive.
- GOTV (Get Out The Vote). Make phone calls, or recruit other members to participate in phone banks and other activities before an election.
- Educate the members. Talk to your members (and listen) about candidates and issues. Keep them informed about the election. Become informed about SEIU's political and legislative program that fights to "Reclaim America" for our jobs, rights, and quality of life so you can educate and involve your members.
- Raise money. Money talks. If our candidates are going to be competitive, they need money. Raising money for SEIU's COPE, our union's political action committee, is one way to do it. Signing up members for COPE checkoff (deducted directly from their paychecks) is one way, if you have the right to do it. Other ways include raffles, drawings, picnics and casino nights. (There are federal and state rules for raising political funds, such as being able to ask only SEIU members and their families for contributions. Learn the rules. They are simple and straightforward, but they are the rules.)
- Lobby. Win or lose on Election Day, someone is going to take office, and we are going to have an interest in the laws they pass or enforce. It might involve striker replacement, Medicare, safety and health, or a hundred other issues, but one thing is sure: Our members will be affected. Help stage a rally. Get petitions signed. Organize letter-writing and postcard campaigns. Lead a delegation to lobby officials.
- Form labor/community coalitions. Remember, unity is strength. Unions and community groups share a commitment to strengthen our society and communities. Participate in coalitions to build legislative and political power.
Your role in building your union's political and legislative power is important. It can also be rewarding and fun.
Unfortunately, in some states our public sector members do not yet enjoy the rights of full political participation. Laws known as "Hatch Acts" or " Little Hatch Acts" restrict the political rights of public employees and vary from state to state. Check with your local union for details. However, all members have some rights to participate.