The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 27, 2006

Get out the vote effort is job one for unions on Election Day, Nov. 7

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Almost four million phone calls, and counting. Between two-to-three million informational mailings. And unionists by the tens of thousands, from international presidents to unaffiliated members, walking neighborhoods in 21 states, driving rural roads and contacting friends and allies.

All with one objective in mind: To try to boost turnout for pro-worker candidates on Election Day, Nov. 7, to reverse the anti-worker actions of the last six years and more.

"We have an incredible opportunity to change the direction this nation is headed in by electing leaders who will fight for working families instead of big corporations," said Iron Workers General President Joseph Hunt, in a letter to members. "The issues at stake in the 2006 election impact all working Americans: skyrocketing job loss, health care costs and gas prices, plus the decimation of pensions and worker safety protections. We can win this year by mobilizing union members to vote - we cannot afford to let anyone sit this election out."

In Michigan, the two most-watched statewide races will be for governor, where the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council has endorsed Jennifer Granholm, and U.S. senator, where Debbie Stabenow has been endorsed.

Scores of other candidates are on ballots in communities across Michigan. Voters will also elect U.S. House members, state Senate and House members, state attorney general and secretary of state, as well as county commissioners and judges.

Organized labor and anyone else who watches national politics have their focus on the U.S. House, which has the greatest chance of swinging into Democratic control. Currently, Republican lawmakers hold a 230-201 edge among lawmakers in the House, with one independent and three vacancies. Dems need to have a net win in 15 districts in order to re-take control of the House.

In the Senate, there are 55 Republicans, 45 Democrats and a Democratic-leaning Independent who is retiring. Analysts say it would be a stretch, but Democrats could swing six seats and earn a Senate majority, too.

The union vote will be crucial. Membership in unions may be diminished in the U.S. - but one constant in elections over the years is that union members vote. About 25 percent of all voters in each of the last two national elections came from a union household, up from 19 percent in 1992. In Michigan, the union vote in 2004 was even higher: 44 percent.

Still, less than 40 percent of all voters in the U.S. turn out at the polls in the last three non-presidential federal elections.

"Come Election Day apathy will engulf well over half the American electorate," said International Union of Operating Engineers President Vincent Giblin, in his own letter to members. "The excuses for not voting will be illogical, unreasonable and just plain stupid: I don't like any of the candidates, my one vote doesn't matter, I could care less who wins."

It matters. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney pointed out that wages and salaries make up the smallest part of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947. America's workers have suffered a generation-long stagnation in wages - but productivity has risen steadily. Real median earnings for men working full-time and year-round were lower in 2005 than in 1973. The typical family's real income today is nearly $1,300 less than in 2000.

Five million people have lost health insurance coverage since 2005. And last year, 46.6 million people had no health insurance.

"The Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have created an economy that is strangling working families and squeezing the life out of America's middle class," Sweeney said.