The Ballot Box Is the Great Equalizer for Workers

WATERLOO, IA - SEPTEMBER 27: Voting booths are set up for early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2
WATERLOO, IA - SEPTEMBER 27: Voting booths are set up for early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. Early voting starts today in Iowa where in the 2008 election 36 percent of voters cast an early ballot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

American workers are facing significant challenges. Whether it's low pay, a system that favors corporations over citizens, a gender wage gap, the effects of unfair trade or a voting system that hampers the most disadvantaged among us, these problems are real. But will those affected the most bother to do something about it?

The public has heard it before, and they will hear it again from me as well - vote. But are people going to do it? The Teamsters have been encouraging our members to do so. In the last few weeks, I've been to Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Illinois trying to convince workers to head to the polls, and right now I'm in my home state of Michigan urging members to make their voices' heard. My Teamster brothers and sisters have gone to workplaces all across the country as well to do the same.

But we know many workers might be mulling whether to skip voting this year. They'll say lawmakers are all the same or that their vote doesn't make a difference. Their frustration with the current system is understandable. I get frustrated too. They shouldn't, however, allow that to cloud their thinking. There's simply too much at risk to do so.

Hardworking Americans saw what happened when too many people didn't show up four years ago. The mass influx of anti-worker elected officials voted into office created a system that is crushing the middle class. And that will only get worse if a new bunch of corporate cronies get added to the mix.

Despite what some might think, there is a big difference between the candidates in most state and federal races. As it stands, the top 0.1 percent's share of U.S. wealth is 22 percent, more than triple what it was three decades ago. That's about where it stood on the eve of the Great Depression! Meanwhile, efforts to raise the federal minimum wage have been foiled again and again by Congress' most conservative elements. That won't improve if those who led the charge in 2010 win again.

If big business succeeds in getting more lawmakers to do its bidding, the only ones getting a helping hand will be them. Right now, the average U.S. family pays $6,000 a year in subsidies to corporate America. How much more assistance is really necessary when companies are raking in record profits while workers can barely support their families?

Low turnout by rank-and-file workers would also continue to stall efforts to ensure women are paid an equal salary to their male counterparts. While this is already a reality for those who work union jobs, statistics tell the story about the disadvantages many females experience in the workforce. It is criminal that the majority gender is facing such discrimination.

Employees nationwide should also be wary about the GOP obtaining a majority in both the House and Senate, given the party's general support of past trade deals like NAFTA. Those agreements have resulted in worker pain while corporations gain. The U.S. economy cannot afford to shed thousands of additional jobs to those abroad just to further line the pockets of the Fortune 500.

And just as importantly, the public should not endorse the continued disenfranchisement of minorities, the elderly, the disabled and young people through the enactment of additional voter suppression laws. Too many states have already taken advantage of such tactics to winnow the amount of people eligible to vote, and it will only get worse if those interested in having less democracy are allowed to win.

So that, in a nutshell, is what is at stake. There are real consequences for workers if they don't make it to the ballot box, and the nation's corporate interests are betting that they won't. But there is still time to prove them wrong. In many states, there is early voting, and I encourage everyone who can to do so.

The Teamsters offer a way for all workers to find out about their candidates and the issues on our website. Feel free to take advantage of it. And remember to vote today, this weekend or on Tuesday for the candidates that promise to put the people above the powerful. Because no one is going to stick up for workers if we don't.