MANCHESTER, N. H. - Determined to re-elect President Barack Obama, health care workers from across Connecticut took a break from their own close senate race last Saturday and boarded two buses to the presidential swing state of New Hampshire. They had in mind that the four electoral college votes in this New England state could make the difference in a close election.
The 1199 SEIU home care, dietary and state workers went to knock on the doors of their union sisters and brothers to discuss the issues in the election and get out the vote.
They were greeted at the Teamsters Union hall by Maggie Hassen, the Democratic candidate for Governor, who is standing up for union rights against an all-out effort to impose "right-to-work" legislation on the state of New Hampshire.
"My father-in-law was a meat cutter at Standard Beef in New Haven for 30 years," she told the Connecticut delegation. "Having a union gave him and his co-workers healthcare and the dignity of a pension. That's what the labor movement means in this country and state."
Hassen has knocked on 10,000 doors, listening to the concerns of working families, to overcome the big money spending by tea party Republican Ovide Lamontagne, best known for his comment, "I'll be Scott Walker on steroids." He was referring to the union-busting stance of the Republican governor of Wisconsin.
When the state legislature flipped to Republican control in 2010, and voted in favor of right-to-work legislation, the anti-union measure was blocked by a veto from now retiring Democratic Governor John Lynch.
Thanking the health care workers for their solidarity, Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, exclaimed to cheers, "There's no way we are going allow New Hampshire to become an anti-union 'right -to-work state."
The message to workers is clear: "Two more years of attacks on collective bargaining. Two more years of attacks on workers' pay, benefits, and pensions. Two more years of Tea Party politicians hijacking our government. These are the reasons that the election this November is so important."
Like union members across the country, New Hampshire workers have been participating in phone banks and labor-to-labor walks for months to speak with their co-workers at home and make sure they understand that the outcome of the national and local election this year could decide the future of the labor movement.
Hassen emphasized how important the effort is by adding in the possibility of an all-woman delegation to Congress if Democrats Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Portrer are elected to the U. S. House. These seats also flipped to Republican in 2010.
It was after a concerted effort by labor in 2004 that New Hampshire began to vote Democratic in the national elections. However, in 2010 Shea-Porter lost her seat to Republican Frank Guinta. In this year's re-match the polls show a very close race.
Guinta has voted consistently with the Republican leadership including for the Ryan budget which protects tax cuts for the wealthy and would replace Medicare with a voucher system.
In contrast, the initiatives of President Barack Obama have provided middle income New Hampshire families with an average $4,238 tax cut, provided 21,000 college students with Pell Grants, and protected 69,000 children from being denied health coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
Although a number of voters were not home during the labor walk on Saturday, the 1199 members came back with many stories of enthusiastic support, and also experiences of discussions that left undecided voters with something to think about.
The trip inspired everyone who participated to go home and take part in the labor walks and phone banks in Connecticut for Obama and Chris Murphy, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, who is locked in a tight race against wealthy tea party Republican Linda McMahon.
Photo: Connecticut SEIU/1199 members at Teamsters union hall in Manchester NH. Photo Joelle Fishman.