The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 10, 2014

AFL-CIO's Trumka: To avoid an 'ass-kicking,' labor needs to step up its political outreach, big-time

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

DETROIT – Passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law in 2012 by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican Legislature “shivered the timbers of every union in every state,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka.

But for whatever reason, passage of the RTW law isn’t doing nearly enough to motivate Michigan union leaders and union members to ramp up get-out-the-vote efforts this year in preparation for the Nov. 4 general election.

Trumka brought that somber message to a number of Michigan’s labor leaders on Sept. 26 when he visited IBEW Local 58 Detroit, who loaned a conference room for the visit. Trumka’s self-described effort was to lean on Michigan’s union leaders, members and political action committees to do a better job of reaching out to union members and households about the importance of shedding their apathy and voting for candidates who support organized labor.

Earlier this year the spectrum of labor unions around Michigan each pledged a certain number of hours of volunteer time for get-out-the-vote efforts before the Nov. 4 election. But as of Sept. 26, Trumka said the state’s labor union volunteers had only met 12 percent of their goal. This year more than ever, the AFL-CIO is using data provided by its unions to drive member-to-member efforts to put union-friendly candidates into office.

The get-out-the-vote hours by union staff and volunteers in Michigan “are woefully down,” Trumka said. “At the current pace, we’re going to take the ass-kicking of the century at the polls.”

As head of the AFL-CIO – an umbrella group over most of the nation’s unions – Trumka has no formal ability to compel, fund or order local unions to become more active politically. The sole purpose of his visit was to point out that organized labor’s political efforts have been lagging in Michigan, and offer whatever information, guidance and assistance that the AFL-CIO could provide. Wisconsin is another state with an anti-union governor – and he said political efforts by organized labor aren’t much better there, either.

“Wisconsin started it (the anti-union legislation), and this guy here, Snyder, stuck it to workers in the middle of the night by passing right to work,” Trumka said. “If we don’t get them out of office, their message is, ‘see, you can bust unions, you can get re-elected, because 40 percent of union members voted for me.’ “

That 40 percent level of union support helped put for Snyder into the governor’s office in 2010. In addition, a poll last month found that 31.8 percent of union households said the passage of the state’s right-to-work law would have “no effect” on their vote for governor this year. Both show that organized labor has a job ahead in communicating with its members.

Trumka said when it comes to unions contacting their membership, what stands out among political mailings in a member’s mailbox is a letter from a local union president. And focus groups have shown that personal contact – member talking to member about political candidates – is the most effective form of communication. “The rest of the stuff is like noise,” Trumka said. “Members pay attention to (union) brothers and sisters who talk to them and give them information they can read and pass along.”

“I have come to ask for your help,” Trumka told the assemblage of about 20 union leaders from around the state. “Let’s turn this around. Let’s educate our members about which legislators in the state House and state Senate are going to stick up for us, and who won’t.”

Trumka said union members are specifically being asked to make calls and go door-to-door in their communities to support labor-friendly candidates. They can contact their local union for more information on volunteering. There’s also an “Action Center” link on the Michigan AFL-CIO’s website ( Their number: (517) 487-5966.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift, who was present at the meeting, said our state “has the potential to have a high-performing labor movement,” pointing out that in political outreach, “some unions are performing above their weight class. But the urgency couldn’t be greater. Snyder has not hit Schauer with everything he has.”

The passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law – statewide RTW laws historically bring about a drop of $1,500 per year in the average income – should be a turning point for labor union voters in Michigan against Snyder and the Republican lawmakers, Trumka said.  “Anyone who would allow that to pass, I would never forgive them,” he said. “That’s our livelihood you’re talking about. They are either our friends, or they aren’t.”

Trumka agreed that he was in  fact, “beating some of the pull-horses” – the unions that are doing all they can to educate members about the election. Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Director Patrick “Shorty” Gleason said he “has no doubt” that the building trades unions will “step up to do their part in this election, as they’ve always done in the past.”

Concluded Trumka: “If we don’t up our game, we’re in for a royal butt-kicking on Election Day, and the attacks against labor will will continue. The good news, is that we still have time to turn this around and win.”

AFL-CIO PRESIDENT Rich Trumka talks to an assemblage of labor union leaders from around Michigan about upping union participation in the upcoming general election. Among the leaders shown are Al Garrett of AFSCME, Joe Daugherty of UNITE Here, and IBEW Local 58’s Michael Richards.