Into our own hands: ‘Real social and economic progress is possible when union members hold office’

President, New Jersey State AFL-CIO

Trenton, N.J. (AFL-CIO Labor Wire) – Over the past year, New Jersey has been paving a path toward a fairer, more just future. From a $15 minimum wage to historic family leave legislation, the Garden State has put the interests of working families front and center.

New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech (IUOE) says that progress was no accident.

The flurry of life-changing legislation moving through Trenton, N.J., got its start more than two decades ago, with a simple question: “Instead of hoping for our leaders to do right by union members, what if we elected union members themselves?”

From its inaugural class of 17 labor candidates in 1997, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO Labor Candidates Program has gone on to elect more than 1,000 union members to public office.

By sending union brothers and sisters into the halls of power, the state federation was able to break through corporate interests’ grip on government.

It was union members like former Assemblyman Nelson Albano (UFCW) and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (Ironworkers) who proved to be the driving forces behind minimum wage and paid leave legislation.

To date, The Labor Candidate’s Program has helped to elect 1,025 union members to office and proven to be a model for other state federations — and an example that the AFL-CIO has committed to following across the country.

“Experience has shown us that real social and economic progress is possible when union members hold office,” Wowkanech said. “And with more labor candidates interested in running than ever before, I am confident the best is yet to come.”

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