The word union means we are all together. No one is out there on a limb by himself.

~ Leroy Abramson, 32BJ Member, New York

Unite, Fight and Win

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by Héctor Figueroa
President, 32BJ SEIU

We are closing on a second year during which I’ve had the honor and privilege to serve as your President. Like you and many other members of 32BJ, I’m celebrating the holiday season with family and friends, hoping that the New Year will be a better one for us – our children, co-workers, our communities and our country and the world.

32BJ has had significant victories in 2014.  We secured good contracts for residential members in New York City and Hudson Valley; won union recognition and contracts for security officers, higher education and school workers across many of our states; saved jobs at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Howard University in Washington D.C; and fought back against owners that hired non-union contractors to save a few bucks at our expense in New Jersey, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. At the same time, we are supporting others who deserve better pay and a union, like fast food workers, retail workers, home-care providers, construction workers, low paid university teachers and many others. We are also organizing non-union workers who provide vital services at our airports, but are grossly underpaid.

We used our political power to deliver results for working families: instead of simply relying on politicians to get things done, we organized ourselves and successfully lobbied and campaigned to win raises and paid sick days for tens of thousands of workers in our cities and for millions nationwide. We also finally moved the President to take action on behalf of millions of undocumented workers and their families. We joined those who are calling for a green economy to create good jobs and a better world for our generation and the next.  We tried to define issues not as Democratic or Republican issues, left or right issues but as right or wrong issues for working people to act on.

It has also been a trying time as racial and other tensions threaten to tear apart our society. The forces that drive our economy today, the ideas and prejudices that shape our culture and institutions and the growing uncertainty over what the future may hold continue to challenge us. We know many of you harbor strong feelings and opinions about these issues and struggle with how it connects to what we deal with on the job and in the broader community. We are asking the same questions previous union members asked in the past during trying times: who are we and what we do we stand for?

Since 1934 we have been a union that fights for every service job to be a good job and for working families to have strong communities and a government that responds to their needs. At the same time, over eight decades our union has had its share of internal conflict over how best to carry out our mission. But by not being afraid to engage one another on difficult issues until we find common ground we have built real solidarity across buildings, neighborhoods, cities, states and demographic differences to improve the standards and benefits of all. We take pride in advancing not only our immediate interests, but also those of all workers –be that they are active, retired or underemployed.

In 2015 we will once again ask you, the members of this great union, to build a better future by remembering how we made progress in the past. We achieved victories by respectfully engaging one another, by organizing against the boss, by voting and peacefully demanding from our government to support working people, wherever they live, however they look, whoever they love, whatever their gender and regardless of accent.  We’ve won in the past when we took on issues that affect some of us and made them issues of concern to all of us. The expression “an injury to one is an injury to all” has meaning that resonates throughout our union’s history, though it has not been as easy as it may seem to us today to live by that fundamental rule.

It is with this spirit of being more active and in solidarity that we will approach next year’s challenges. As tens of thousands of cleaners in our union and across SEIU fight for a better union contract, as the demands of fast food, airport and other low wage workers intensify, as the country painfully struggles to reconcile racial justice and equal law enforcement, as we try to address economic progress or our planet’s needs and as millions of workers try to keep their families together despite a broken immigration system, as all this happens, we need to commit ourselves to do everything we can to find common ground and continue to win. We did it before. We can do it again. Let’s unite, fight and win.

So enjoy this holiday season while spending a few moments to look ahead. 2015 will be a year of challenge and opportunity for 32BJ. If we stay united and fight together, it will be a wonderful year. We will win together and in so doing we will give hope to other workers that they too can win.

As always, I wish my best to you, your families and communities.

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