When you feel the brunt, you work like hell for change

“When you feel the brunt of the downturn in the economy and wake up wondering if your job is being shipped overseas or whether you can still afford healthcare, you work like hell for change,” Steel Workers’ President Leo Gerard said recently as he described his union’s successful effort to help elect Barack Obama.

The Steel Workers had 500 members working full-time in 31 states between Labor Day and Election Day and they gave out 5 million pieces of literature.

More than 11,000 members volunteered their time for Obama and, among many other things, called 100,000 other steel workers in key battleground states.

Like the Steel Workers, almost every union in the country participated in the campaign, most at levels never before seen in the history of organized labor.

The United Food and Commercial Workers aimed its efforts at both battleground states and at expanding the electoral map into other key states, including Virginia and Colorado.

UFCW member Teresa Ransone is a cake decorator at Kroger’s in Roanoke, Va. She said, at a Nov. 6 press conference sponsored by Change-to-Win, “What inspired me was Obama’s position on affordable health care and education.” The Local 400 member added, “We just had to keep on working and taking the message to people every day.”

Samantha Mishkevich, a UFCW Local 1776 member, said she hit the campaign trail not just for herself but for her 70-year-old grandmother. Her grandmother who lives with her, pays more than one-third of her income for health care. “And I was uninsured until nine months ago,” she added. Mishkevich said she believed Obama’s election was “the end of an existence as we knew it and the beginning of a better one.”

The Teamsters report that they had more than 40,000 volunteers. The union’s president, James Hoffa, was present at many campaign rallies in battleground states. The Teamsters mailed out 2.6 million pieces of literature and made more than 1.6 million phone calls. They also visited 1 million workers at their job sites, knocked on 4.5 million doors and signed up 54,687 union members for election text-messaging.

The Communications Workers sent 10,000 volunteers into seven states where they worked together with three other unions, the Steel Workers, the Auto Workers and IFPTE. The states the alliance targeted were Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky. The CWA also conducted phone banks, labor walks and numerous mailings.

The labor walks were in Virginia where the CWA is the largest union. Virginia, itself, is one of the least unionized states in the country. Nevertheless, Obama became the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Virginia in 44 years.

The Laborers contacted 110,000 fellow members, organized 15,000 of their own members to register to vote, and enlisted 20,000 volunteers for the Obama campaign under the umbrella of their “Make a Call to Build America” phone bank. They also sent out 2 million pieces of literature, hand-delivered a half-million informational flyers to members on jobsites and directed other members to the union’s election website. In Florida they had thousands of members spending Election Day providing voters with rides to the polls.

“In my nine years in office, I have never been prouder of our organization,” said Laborers President, Terry O’Sullivan. “We said this was the election of a lifetime – and members and leaders across the country stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park. Because of the tireless and selfless, day-in and day-out work of so many members and leaders, we built an army that will help change our country. In the Obama White House, there will be an open door for the men and women who build our country.”

Obama was the first Democrat to carry the “deep red” state of Indiana since 1964. SEIU’s special concentration on that state may have had a lot to do with the victory. Hundreds of the union’s volunteers knocked on 64,000 doors and made 185,000 calls in the state, according to Anna Burger, the union’s secretary –treasurer and chair of the Change –to-Win.

Any candidate seeking a union endorsement would probably do well to get one from AFSCME. That union had ground operations in 20 states, with more than 500 full-time staff and 40,000 members and retirees knocking on doors, making calls and contacting co-workers and neighbors, said union President Gerald McEntee. The union also put $67 million into the elections, with a large portion of the money going to the most critical House and Senate races.