The Union Vote

By Sam Yoon

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"In less than 60 days the Boston City Council will be facing one of their toughest votes in recent memory. They’ll be voting to approve or reject a lucrative fire fighter’s contract that was awarded by a labor-management arbitrator.

For a whole host of reasons, many of them familiar to us by now, the right thing for the City Council to do is to vote no on this contract. But if they don’t, Boston residents will have only themselves to blame. That’s because historically, not enough people vote in city elections.

Which means that next year, when all 13 members of the city council face re-election, the votes of fire fighters and their families will count that much more – because the vast majority of the other registered voters will stay home. So in a sense, you can’t blame our city councilors for paying attention to the voters who keep them in office.

Put yourself in the shoes of a city councilor for a moment. You know that the average voter in a city election doesn’t have a litmus test for their city councilors, nor are they motivated by a single issue. But you can bet that fire fighters will remember who voted for or against their contract.

These firefighters – and their families – are motivated, and they vote. As so do all other city workers who live in the city, 80% of whom belong to unions. Therein lies the problem. Unions have too much influence when it comes to city elections. Why is that? Because so few other people vote. Voter turnout in the 2007 city council election was the lowest in decades. Less than 14% of registered voters cast ballots -- that’s 46,000 people. The City of Boston employs 18,000 people. If only a small fraction of the 350,000 registered voters in the city of Boston turns out to vote next year, as was the case in 2007, the union vote will again be a big fish swimming in a small pond.

You can’t blame the unions for using the influence they have. That’s what they’re for.

But if this contract is good for Boston firefighters, but bad for just about everyone else, then it’s time for everyone else in Boston to step up to the plate, urge our councilors to vote NO on this contract, then tell them we will back them up at the ballot box. If we want courage from our city councilors to do the right thing, we need to honor them with our civic participation."

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