LANSING - The labor vote is ripe for the taking. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask for it.
That's the theory behind an effort undertaken by the Michigan AFL-CIO to get out the vote of Michigan's labor families.
"The labor movement is back; even the doctors are starting to organize," said state AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. "We've seen 20 years of decline in membership numbers end in 1998, and that was reinforced in 1999." Nationally, the ranks of organized labor grew 265,000 to 16.5 million in 1999. Michigan labor unions brought in 9,000 new members last year.
To help get labor's message out to the old and new members, Gaffney presented a plan of action to delegates to the Michigan Building Trades Council's Legislative Conference. According to labor union polling, 78 percent of workers who have been personally approached by a representative of their union have voted for union-backed candidates.
The state AFL-CIO plan calls for appointing directors from local unions and councils to coordinate the campaign efforts of volunteers assigned to work job sites and other places of employment. The state federation will cut down a few trees in printing materials that are targeted to workers in various occupations. Then the volunteers will hand out the materials personally, and talk to individual union members about the issues.
Throw in a voter registration drive, and at the end a get-out-the-vote effort, and the building trades and the rest of organized labor have a lot of work ahead.
If sufficient volunteers can be obtained, a separate survey commissioned by the Michigan Building Trades Council of 600 building trades workers revealed that the hard work should pay off. Celinda Lake of the polling firm of Lake, Snell, Perry Associates told the delegates that even 56 percent of self-proclaimed Republicans in the building trades "are interested in getting political information from their unions. Those are very high numbers."
The survey, she said, revealed that construction union members tend to be "detached from politics, but "want input from their unions on election issues."
Lake said the issues most important to Michigan's building trades union workers are first, Social Security, then Medicare, health care, and prescription drug costs.
"In Michigan, we're doing the same thing that's being done around the country," Gaffney said. "You're going to be seeing a lot more grassroots action and more work than ever before. It's decision time. We're at a crossroads. Between now and Election Day, each of us has a role to play."