In good times, it is easy to take our government for granted. When our bank accounts are full and our jobs secure, democracy seems to be working. Politicians appear in the press more like heroes than villains.
It is during bad times that we take a step back and wonder what happened. We closely examine our leaders and make decisions about whether we want them in charge. It is no secret that the last several years have been such a time. In New York City’s elections last year, we saw sweeping change in many elected offices, and Mayor Bloomberg kept his job, most likely because voters trusted him to deal with difficult circumstances.
This year, it’s easy to sense the winds of change are blowing even harder upstate through the halls of the Capitol. New York City is a shining light of ethics and efficiency compared to Albany. Voters are angry and want to take their resentment out on everyone in state politics, whether they are irresponsible or not.
But the situation is more complicated than that. It’s not enough to say, “Throw the bums out!” if we simply replace them with new bums. We must take a moment and truly reflect on the type of leadership we want as New York struggles back to its feet. There will be no shortage of candidates this fall, some at the top of the ticket and many others in local district races around the city and state. I ask all of you to consider the candidates carefully, learn about their positions, and vote for the one that sits best with your conscience.
To help our members make those choices, we have brought together the second annual Local 237 Candidates’ Forum, which will be happening shortly after I write this. At our first statewide forum, elected officials Chuck Schumer and Tom DiNapoli, along with a host of aspiring candidates, will address our members to express their vision for New York. For those of you who attended the event, I thank you for taking the voting process seriously and I hope you learned something from the event. For the rest of our members, we will have plenty of information about the forum in Newsline and on our website, which you can use to help you make decisions at the polls.
As the leader of this union, I plan on paying close attention to the candidates to help me decide which ones have the best interests of Local 237 at heart. In the future, we may even endorse some of these candidates and throw the considerable muscle of the Teamsters behind them. I take that decision extremely seriously, as I speak not only for myself, but for 24,000 members. Together, we can fill the state Capitol with people who are committed to changing the status quo and grappling with the real problems of New York. Tough decisions demand tough leaders, and as a strong union, we will demand nothing less from our elected officials.
Brothers and Sisters in Arms
We are on the brink of summer, a season unofficially book-ended by two holidays: Memorial Day and Labor Day. These are two important holidays for Teamsters, commemorating both those who have fought and died for our country and those that have served it proudly in the working ranks. There is one holiday this month that often gets overshadowed, but I believe to be equally important, Workers’ Memorial Day, in a way a combination of the other two more recognizable dates.
This holiday observes all the working men and women who have been killed or injured on the job. International labor organizations estimate that more than 2 million people around the world die each year as a result of unsafe conditions at work. To put that in perspective, in the 20th Century more people have died from work than from wars. Many of us have lost someone close to us from a workrelated tragedy, and we must honor them with our thoughts and prayers, as well as vigilance against safety hazards on the job.
The day also offers a reminder that every day, as public employees, many of our members face higher safety and health risks on the job than most workers in the private sector. I believe this is an important focus at a time when we are braced for looming budget cuts and layoffs. It reminds us that we are not just fighting to protect the livelihood of our members, but their actual lives. The bonds we share as Teamsters are not simply our job titles, but our belief that we all deserve a chance to protect our families and our health.
Aside from the rallies and the speeches and the legal fights, Workers’ Memorial Day binds us together as a union in a different and more powerful way — as human beings.