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Columbia Spectator Staff

This election season, Columbia security guards looked to protect their own labor interests, as local union leaders amped up efforts to get out the vote. Kwame Patterson, a spokesperson for SEIU 32BJ, a union with over 70,000 members in New York that represents many University guards stationed in off-campus residence halls, said a record-breaking number of union members volunteered to campaign for candidates during this election. "We have an extremely aggressive political program," Patterson said. "What is finally happening is that members are volunteering more because they know that our leaders will be the ones writing the laws. It's kind of a no-brainer for them to participate." While 32BJ had hundreds of volunteers in previous years, Patterson said thousands signed up this year to get out the vote. "In total, more than 3,000 32BJ members volunteered over the course of this election cycle—a record-breaking number for the union," Patterson said. Of those 3,000, over one thousand—including many Columbia security guards—volunteered to stump for Eric Schneiderman, Thomas DiNapoli, and Andrew Cuomo in all five boroughs, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island, Patterson added. "They all were successful," Patterson said. "32BJ ran an aggressive political program this year, significantly expanding get-out-the-vote efforts from previous election years. I think that with the help of 32BJ efforts, we pushed them over the edge, especially in races such as DiNapoli's." Maida Rosenstein, president of Local UAW 2110, said the local union also endorsed Schneiderman for attorney general and DiNapoli for comptroller. "We endorsed them for their excellent support of working families and their standing up for Main Street rather than Wall Street," she said. "We worked strongly with the Working Families Party and Row E of the ballot. I would say most Columbia University union members are concerned about issues like there being good jobs, a just economy, the environment, healthcare for all." 32BJ spent more money this year campaigning for such labor interests, even hiring full-time staffers to help with the get-out-the-vote effort. "Working New Yorkers need leaders in Albany and Washington who are committed to creating good jobs and turning this economy around," 32BJ president Mike Fishman said. "32BJ members worked tirelessly to talk to voters about the importance of electing leaders who will advocate for working families." But some union members said that they don't always find union endorsements helpful for candidates. Union member Sandy Bennett, who has been a member for 12 years, said she didn't vote this past Tuesday, but when she votes she generally doesn't heed union political efforts. "I don't vote for who they endorse, not really," she said. "In terms of the unions influencing me, on a scale of one to 10, maybe four. They don't really have the best reputation for representing our interests." Luis Ventura, who has been a member of Local 241 for 10 years, said that he does not rely heavily on union endorsements for non-local issues. "If it's something regarding the locals, then it would be different. But mostly for political candidates, not really." Unions, however, said they work to advocate candidates who support union interests. Rosenstein said that UAW 2110 does everything from interviewing and meeting with candidates, to conducting straw polls to determine what union members' candidate preferences are. "We develop our positions in response to our members," she said. "It's not divorced from them. We try to let people know who we're endorsing and why, without directing them." Whether or not members actually turn out to vote is not under the unions' control. "I think it was a little bit tougher this year because people assumed Cuomo's election was going to be a cakewalk, so it was harder to turn people out because people thought their vote wasn't going to make as much of a difference." Still, Rosenstein said she suspects that voter turnout was better than average because of improved communications, including automated dialing, personal phone calls, mailings, and email. Despite unions' active efforts to reach members, though, some said they were not contacted, including Woldeab Woldeselassie. He joined 32BJ last year. "Nobody called," said Woldeselassie, adding that he doesn't have a chance to discuss issues with other union members. "You come, you do your work, you leave. We don't talk about it, we don't see each other." Though he said he relies more on the Internet and television news to decide how to vote, Ventura said that information his union sends does sometimes lead him to research certain candidates further. "They don't mail us anything, not really," he said of election seasons. "Normally, they'll just send us monthly newsletter magazines with articles and they point out who they like." In the end, unions can only influence elections so far. "Labor probably played a big role in the elections in terms of electing Democratic state officials, in terms of activism," Rosenstein said. "But obviously labor did not win in all the elections—that was clear in the House. I'm horrified." Even so, unions said they were pleased to see candidates like Schneiderman and DiNapoli voted into office. "32BJ is looking forward to working with newly elected leaders to prioritize the creation of good jobs for New Yorkers upstate and in the city," Patterson said, "especially through reforming the state's economic development programs so that good jobs are created when our tax dollars are given to corporations and developers."

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