Unions begin big election effort

Targets include South, Midwest and ‘Ohio, Ohio, Ohio’

With the primary season over, labor is wasting no time jumping into the fall campaign.

The 10-million-member AFL-CIO is expected to endorse Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, shortly. The Change to Win federation has already endorsed him.

One of the opening shots in the expected AFL-CIO push to elect Obama was fired June 5 by the Communications Workers of America. The union’s executive council voted to recommend endorsement of Obama to the full CWA convention which meets June 23.

CWA President Larry Cohen, a Democratic Convention superdelegate, has already been backing Obama. His union remained uncommitted through the primary season because its members were evenly divided between Obama and Hillary Clinton and, earlier, Sen. John Edwards. The decision to endorse is key to the overall federation endorsement of Obama because the CWA is one of the last big unions to remain uncommitted. For the federation to endorse, it needs agreement from unions representing two-thirds of its total membership and the CWA move brings it much closer to that total.

Cohen explained that one reason it has taken a while for the full federation to make an endorsement is that pro-Clinton unions, notably AFSCME, needed time “to come to terms with the fact that their favorite lost.”

Once the AFL-CIO officially endorses Obama, it is expected to deploy large numbers of ground troops for the election. It has already budgeted $54.3 million for its own get-out-the vote drive and may, according to its political committee chairman, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, spend as much as $60 million on the effort.

The CWA, according to Cohen, will concentrate its efforts on six or seven states including, significantly, Louisiana and Mississippi. The union has a big membership in those states and has previously worked with the Steelworkers in both to successfully elect Democrats to Congress in long-time Republican districts. In large sections of Louisiana and Mississippi the combined memberships of the two unions constitute a majority of the voters who are union members.

The other states that the CWA will focus on are Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky.

The Steelworkers have already begun what they say will be 30,000 or more worksite visits by union activists, talking directly to workers about Obama’s positions. They’re emphasizing his proposals for fair trade policies and for creation of millions of good paying “green” manufacturing jobs. The jobs they are talking about include production of solar cells, industrial-sized windmills to power electric turbines, and hybrid automobile engines.

The Service Employees (SEIU), the largest union in the Change to Win federation, voted at their June 2–4 convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to spend $85 million for the fall campaign to elect Obama and a bigger Democratic majority in Congress.

An additional $55 million will be spent for a legislative campaign to push for creation of a “universal, comprehensive and affordable national health care plan,” according to a union statement issued after the convention.

In a unique move, SEIU voted to spend $10 million to mount campaigns against legislators on any level who go back on promises they have made to the labor movement.

The Mine Workers have already strongly rejected any notion that Obama will run weakly among white working class men, the largest demographic group among their membership. They have announced that they have begun to reach, by mail and on the job, every one of their 105,000 members and retirees. The effort aims to show the members how all of Obama’s major positions, particularly those on health care, agree with positions put forward by the union.

The Teamsters, another big Change to Win Union, announced June 4 that they have already begun a “key state” strategy for the Obama campaign. When asked to name the states, the union’s president, James Hoffa, said, “Ohio, Ohio and Ohio.”

The Teamster effort is actually a national one with, like the Steelworkers, a special focus on the Midwest and Northeast industrial states. The Teamsters say they will make a particularly strong effort in Missouri, an important swing state.

Talking about the Teamster drive for Obama, Hoffa said, “We’ll motivate our members, we’ll motivate their wives, we’ll motivate their families, we’ll motivate their grandmothers and we’ll motivate their grandfathers to get out and vote for Obama and all our candidates. I tell them, ‘You’re not voting for Obama, you’re voting for yourselves’.”