Backed by radio ads from the AFL-CIO and several top unions, workers and their allies mounted a final intensive political push in the week before the Nov. 4 election, seeking to convince unionists, their family members and pro-worker non-unionists to turn out in droves for worker-friendly candidates from the Senate and the statehouse to city hall and sheriff.
Turnout was the key. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told Michigan union leaders in October that since unions now represent only 6.7 percent of private-sector workers, “We’re no longer big enough to win by ourselves. Not only do we need to get our members to the polls, we need to get their households to the polls.”
And when unionists stumped for pro-union candidates, they sometimes were campaigning for fellow unionists. Union members on the ballot included gubernatorial nominees Mike Michaud of the Steelworkers in Maine and Mark Schauer of the Laborers in Michigan. Also running are at least two incumbent U.S. representatives, another U.S. House hopeful and dozens of candidates for state and local office.
But results of all these efforts and more won’t be known until after the polls close, and in some cases, not even then. Senate Democrats are defending 35 of their 53 seats. One, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, appears headed for a December runoff. So does Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Michelle Nunn in Georgia, seeking an open GOP-held seat. The Georgia runoff would be on Jan. 6.
And a strong pro-worker senator, Alaska Democrat Mark Begich, may have to wait weeks after the election for all the absentee ballots to be collected and counted from around his far-flung state.
The election is important for workers and their allies. With Congress gridlocked due to the tea party-run House and Senate GOP filibusters, action turned in the last four years to state capitols nationwide. And the wave of Republican governors elected in 2010 jammed through anti-worker legislation.
Many of those GOP governors, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Maine’s Paul LePage and Florida’s Rick Scott, are in too-close-to-call re-election races against pro-worker candidates. But so are governors who have been pro-worker more often than not: Illinois’ Pat Quinn, Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy, and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, to name three.
The close races, and others, sent thousands of workers out on the hustings, including:
WISCONSIN: “It’s not been tough for us to get volunteers in Wisconsin,” Trumka told MSNBC while stumping for Democratic business executive Mary Burke, Walker’s Wisconsin foe. “This guy (Walker) is known not just as an anti-worker governor in Wisconsin. He’s sort of like the poster child for that across the country.”
Walker and the GOP-run legislature abolished collective bargaining for 200,000 state and local workers and imposed other onerous restrictions. He survived a recall effort in 2012, but recently made headlines by saying the state’s minimum wage – $7.25 hourly, the same as the federal minimum – “doesn’t serve a purpose.” Walker also called it “a living wage,” which it is not. Walker and Burke are in a dead heat.
Enthusiastic Steelworkers, whose union is known for its political activism and organizing, hosted pre-election rallies for Michaud in Portland, Maine, and for Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke at the Green Bay Labor Council building. Steelworkers President Leo Gerard keynoted the Green Bay rally.
“Wisconsin is ready for good jobs and a strong middle class. Wisconsin is ready to move forward with Mary Burke,” the Steelworkers said before the November 1 rally there. “Union workers are working around the state to get out the vote for Burke by making phone calls, going door to door and having important conversations at worksites about our vote.”
“In Wisconsin, our priority is to stop Walker, not only to end his rampage of ruin, but to warn the Walker clones in other states that they can’t win on the backs of working people and retirees,” added AFSCME President Lee Saunders in his union’s nationwide tele-town hall in late October. “We won’t let them.”
“I’m ready to hit the phones to talk with fellow Machinists, encouraging them to vote,” Local Lodge 66 member Doug Staniszwski said during a break in phone-banking. “I’ve got to do my part because I can’t sit on the sidelines and wait for other people to do it anymore.
“Walker is ready to make Wisconsin a Right to Work state and I’m tired of him doing things to hurt working people. A Right to Work law would hurt every single person in Wisconsin, not just union members. Walker wants to drive down all our wages until we’re a third world country. This is America, workers deserve a living wage.”
ILLINOIS: Teamsters President James Hoffa spent a recent weekend campaigning for Quinn in Chicago. So did his union’s members. Both also urged unionists to take advantage of the state’s early-voting plan. Other states also let voters cast ballots early by mail.
“This election is very important and you need to encourage your family and friends to not only vote early but vote for candidates which believe in unions and all they stand for in support of working families,” Hoffa told the 70 Teamsters working at Chicago’s new – and Local 727-organized – Lagunitas Brewery. Brewery worker and Local 727 member Steve Syreggelas canvassed friends and family members. “Supporting union jobs in Illinois is very important. At Lagunitas…we are proud to be Teamsters brewing and bottling beer.”
ALASKA: Laborers Local 341 led the way for the state AFL-CIO in Begich’s race against Right Wing GOP Lieut. Gov. Dan Sullivan. Recent polls show Begich is trailing.
“This election is a choice between growth and opportunity for everyone or gridlock and special favors for the powerful. We think it’s clear which one Alaskans prefer, but we need your help making sure they vote this year,” the Laborers said. “Sullivan let Wall Street walk away with billions of Alaskans’ retirement dollars,” the state fed added. “We can’t count on him to protect Alaska’s interests over big corporations’ interests.”
MICHIGAN: GOP-passed “right-to-work (for less)” laws and other anti-worker measures – including weaker workers’ comp, higher taxes on workers’ pensions, fewer weeks of jobless benefits, imposing a state financial czar on Detroit and abolition of teacher tenure – drove workers out onto the campaign trail for the Laborers’ Schauer, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee against Snyder. Chances of retaking the legislature are slim.
“It seems like every month the GOP introduces a new bill in the legislature,” IBEW lobbyist Todd Tennis told The Building Tradesman. “Putting in more hoops for workers to jump through before they can get workers comp. Reducing unemployment compensation, which has just been devastating. Right to Work. And the (Snyder) administration has always gone along. No matter how difficult they have made things for workers, it’s never enough.”
“Pundits say both parties are the problem. In Michigan, when it comes to the war on workers and organized labor, that’s clearly not the case. The Republican Party is doing all the damage,” the Building Tradesman commented.
MINNESOTA: Gov. Mark Dayton had a wide lead for re-election, as did Sen. Al Franken, both DFL-Minn., but workers campaigned to prevent the state legislature from returning to total Republican control, as it had been during the first two years of Dayton’s term.
“It becomes an anxious time,” state Building Trades Council President Harry Melander told his convention, the Union Advocate reported. “We have made great progress, and to go backwards would be a shame.” Dayton echoed that theme, citing 159,000 new jobs statewide, infrastructure improvements, a minimum wage hike and family-friendly laws.
“I hope to come back, obviously, but I don’t want to come back with a Republican (state) House of Representatives,” Dayton said, adding that it would mean “gridlock, deadlock and another budget showdown.” The GOP shut down the state government for three weeks during its years of total control in St. Paul.
KENTUCKY: Steelworkers joined Mine Workers in campaigning around the Bluegrass State, with top targets being to replace the chief Republican obstructionist, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) and to prevent an anti-labor majority in the legislature.
Polls show the U.S. Senate race is a tossup, but McConnell’s business and right-wing allies flooded the state with millions of dollars in negative ads. The Steelworkers, led by Gerard – who spoke at an Oct. 28 rally – countered with shoe leather.
“Voter turnout is going to be the difference maker in this election,” said Jeff Vance of Local 1155L at the Bridgestone Tire plant in Warren County, Tenn. His state has no hot races, so Vance started canvassing Kentucky voters on Sept. 1. USW volunteers in Kentucky have knocked on about 50,000 doors. Only 1.4 million voters turned out in Kentucky’s 2010 midterm election, so canvassing – especially with new targeting technology – can make a difference, USW says.
So does a concise message about the cause of gridlock in D.C. – McConnell – and importance of voting. The volunteers visited labor-minded voters, especially those in danger of staying home, with a simple plea: Get to the polls.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN UNIONISTS: High turnout by African-Americans could swing many of the close races, retired union leaders Norman and Velma Hill wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s leading African-American papers. Norman Hill is a past president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the AFL-CIO constituency group for African-Americans. Velma Hill is a former Teachers and SEIU official.
“In many close Senate races, Blacks constitute a significant proportion of the population: 32 percent in Louisiana, 31 percent in Georgia, 22 percent in North Carolina, 16 percent in Arkansas, 14 percent in Michigan, and eight percent in Kentucky,” they wrote.
“The African-American vote has typically dipped dramatically during off-year elections. Reversing this tendency is made more difficult by the new strategic voting restrictions,” especially in Southern states, after the Supreme Court gutted enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the Hills wrote.
“More than ever, organizations like the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions need to rise to the task. Without strong voter education, and get-out-vote programs, Blacks,
workers and all ordinary Americans will be shoved backward like no other time in the modern era,” they warned.
NEW JERSEY: “So far this fall, our volunteers have visited 135,870 union members’ homes to tell them about their Election Day choices,” the New Jersey AFL-CIO tweeted last week. One of those choices is State Sen. David Norcross (D), past assistant business manager of IBEW Local 351 and past president of the Camden-area Building and Construction Trades. He’s favored to win an open U.S. House seat in southern New Jersey.
Norcross would join the handful of elected unionists in the U.S. House. Though they’ll lose Michaud – win or lose – in Maine, those seeking re-election include Reps. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., of Unite Here, Teamster Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., and Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., of Education Minnesota, the state’s joint AFT-NEA affiliate.
On the state level, they join Oregon State Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, a Communications Worker, Mineworkers District 31 President Mike Caputo, the West Virginia House Minority Whip, and Missouri Building Trades President Gina Walsh, one of the leaders of the State Senate’s Democratic minority.
They’re not the only unionists who sought votes for themselves. Besides Sanchez, the Teamsters alone list a dozen members seeking elected office, many of them for state legislative seats. Local 600 members Bob Burns and Terry Lisinski, seek Missouri House seats, as does Ohio’s Thomas Jefferson Davis of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers/ Teamsters. He’s running in Scioto County, east of Cincinnati.
All are in normally GOP territory. So are Local 190’s Eric Johnson, seeking a Montana senate seat, and Local 728 member Jim Nichols, seeking a Georgia senate seat. Two Graphic Communications Conference/IBT members are among union candidates for local office: Former Chicagoan Mark Bogen in Broward County, Fla. (Jacksonville) for county commissioner and Tom Trapp in the Republican town of Clarkson, Long Island.
MEDIA ADS: Workers’ Voice, the labor federation’s independent campaign committee that, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling can reach out to non-members, backed selected gubernatorial and U.S. Senate hopefuls with seven figures’ worth of radio ads. The ads are “designed to educate working families about the stakes on Nov. 4 and promote the candidates who will work for their economic interests,” the fed says.
The 60-second radio ad blitz, backed Begich, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who seeks an open U.S. Senate seat there, Grimes, Michaud and Burke. Workers’ Voice also bought TV ads for Schauer, who is in a neck-and-neck battle against Snyder in Michigan.
Photo: Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO is campaigning relentlessy around the country to defeat right-wing Republicans and to prevent a GOP takeover of the Senate. Alex Brandon/AP