Unions, progressives push for Latino Biden votes
A sign in Texas pointing voters where to go is intended to assist those who read Spanish. Latino voters in that state have faced voter suppression for years and the Biden campaign is relying heavily on them to flip the state. | Michelmond/Shutterstock

Filling a gap Democrats left till the last minute, several top unions and at least one progressive organization launched intensive media and, later, on-the-ground campaigns to maximize Latinx votes for the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

The effort may be enough to bring the Democratic ticket a win in key swing states.

Latinx people are now the largest group of color and the fastest-growing in the U.S.  Besides their heavy presence in states Latinx people traditionally call home—Illinois, New York, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, and Texas—they’re also settling in increasing numbers elsewhere, notably Pennsylvania and the midwestern meat packing states such as Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

But neither presidential campaign reached out to them until almost the last minute And surveys show a potentially significant sliver of Latinx voters consider voting for GOP nominee Donald Trump, despite his racist policies targeting people of color in general and Latinx, Black and Muslim people in particular. That sliver could be enough to put a close swing state in Trump’s camp.

The effort began in July and August when People for the American Way discovered that nobody—not Biden, not Hispanic organizations and certainly not Trump—had run any radio ads on Hispanic-oriented stations in key swing states. And buying those ads was relatively cheap, PFAW leaders said. So they did.

“We found Spanish-language radio in Pennsylvania with no political advertising,” said Lizet Ocampo, political director for the group. They also enlisted the brains of veteran labor leader, and United Farm Workers co-founder, Dolores Huerta, to create the spots. The stations reach 187,000 Latinos in the Keystone State.

So the group bought 256 radio spots on stations broadcasting from Allentown, Hazelton, and Reading for $3,000. The buy was so huge the stations cut the price by more than 50%. And they were up early and stayed up on those stations.

That’s important because late in the campaign, Trumpites turned to disinformation to try to pry Latinx voters away from the Democrats. One tactic, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported: Alleging on WhatsApp that Democrats are pedophiles. That could hit home with the heavily Catholic Latinx community, given the church’s ongoing scandals surrounding pedophile priests and ensuing coverups.

Meanwhile, Unite Here, the Service Employees, the Painters, and other unions with high concentrations of people of color also campaigned hard in the Latinx community.

Some themes used to reach Latinx voters are specific, such as discussing the Trump regime’s anti-migrant racism and actions. Canvassers, callers, and Zoom meetings reminded voters Trump sent ICE agents to raid meatpacking plants nationwide to round up Hispanic-named workers and had them rip children away from their parents—at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Others have woven those specifics together into one overarching theme, the Rev. Scott Marks, chair of the Black Leadership Group at Unite Here, told the People’s World seminar on voting, race, and the economy in late October.

“People have found a reason to cast their votes: To fight for their lives and their democracy,” he said. “We got Trump” in 2016 “because we didn’t push people to move their feet for what they believe in.”

“We have to be creative in about how, in this moment, we’re not leaving people behind.”

It’s also what sent Culinary Workers Local 226, Unite Here’s largest local, into the streets. It fielded more than 400 organizers in Las Vegas and Reno, including their suburbs, culminating in a massive get out the vote drive on Election Day itself.

Since Aug. 1, the union’s canvassers—all appropriately socially distanced and masked due to the coronavirus pandemic—have knocked on more than 450,000 doors,

“Donald Trump is a threat to the livelihoods of workers and our families,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the union’s Executive Secretary-Treasurer. “We are fighting to take back our country and we will deliver Nevada for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” along with congressional and local pro-worker candidates. One, Rep. Steven Horsford (D), is a former Local 226 training center director.

“Workers in this country are ready to take power into their own hands and demand that legislators recommit to building a government and economy that works for their benefit rather than just the Trumps of the world,” the Painters said after a Zoom video meeting their members held with Biden in late October—the same day Trump picked up the endorsement of the notoriously anti-worker Associated Builders and Contractors.

SEIU sent more than 1,000 organizers into the field, again protected against the coronavirus pandemic, to try to reach Latinx voters and other voters of color who did not cast ballots in 2016. The union explained its analysis showed there were so many of those “infrequent” voters that their numbers exceeded Trump’s victory margins in key swing states that year, notably Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“Political engagement since then has been centered around making sure that people who are too frequently left out or not engaged in the processparticularly infrequent voters of colorfelt the stakes and turned up at the polls. “

SEIU believed its efforts are paying off in nine states, seven of them battlegrounds this year: Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The other two, Virginia and Colorado, have been written off by Trump but were battlegrounds in 2016.

The union also said the infrequent voters accounted for one of every nine of all early voters in those nine states. Infrequent voters got more than 33 million phone calls and 58 million texts. SEIU calculates its drive reached more than a million such voters.

SEIU described its volunteer member organizers as “essential workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic…who range in age and are mostly women of color” and “include home and health care, janitorial, airport, food and other service workers.”

“The Black and Latino workers who are on the frontlines of the pandemic as nursing home workers, fast-food workers, janitors, and others are also the hardest hit by the sickness, death, and economic crisis. They’re fed up and mobilizing in their communities to make their power felt at the ballot box,” union President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).