Fighting for pro-worker candidates on November’s ballot, IBEW members across the country are knocking on doors, making phone calls, writing postcards, leafleting job sites – anything and everything to get out the vote on Election Day.
“They’re motivated. They get it,” Sixth District International Vice President David Ruhmkorff said, pointing to fallout in parts of his region from right-to-work and attacks on prevailing wage laws. “They’ve seen the direct results of how the wrong people in leadership impacts their livelihood, and they’re doing something about it.”
The IBEW is playing a major role in campaigns nationwide, with locals involved in candidate forums, rallies, phone banks, canvassing, voter registration drives and more. Additionally, district and local offices have released staff to help run the AFL-CIO’s Labor 2018 program, with the slogan, “I’m Union. I Vote.”
“We’re sending that message loud and clear to candidates, whether they’re running for Congress, governor, state legislatures, city, county and school board seats or anything else,” said Austin Keyser, director of the IBEW’s Political and Legislative Affairs Department. “If they don’t stand with unions and working people, we’re not standing with them, and we’re making sure our members know it.”
s who’ve hit the campaign trail say they can feel it making a difference, and they encourage more IBEW brothers and sisters to join them in the final stretch.
“It’s so important,” said Jennifer Wilson, a journeyman inside wireman at San Diego Local 569 who takes her sons along on weekend labor walks sponsored by the city’s building trades. “The more we get involved, the better chance we have of electing politicians who will have our backs on issues that affect us and our families.”
From collective bargaining rights to retirement security, health care and more, “this election could be a three-generation game-changer,” said Joshua Fluharty, active volunteer and journeyman inside wireman at Colorado Springs, Colo., Local 113.
“We’ve got a voice, and now’s the time to use it,” he said. “The future’s at stake, for us, for our kids and for our grandkids.”
|Local 5 volunteers show their union pride as they get ready to knock on doors in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 13.
Going door to door can be daunting at first, as any seasoned canvasser will tell you. And for volunteers who aren’t comfortable doing it, there are myriad other ways to help.
But when it comes to voter turnout, personal contact is the gold standard. Research over the past 20 years shows it can increase the number of ballots cast by 6 to 12 percent in national elections and up to 14 percent in local elections.
Greg Vogt, registrar for Pittsburgh Local 5, has been visiting IBEW homes in Allegheny County every weekday afternoon and taking part in larger labor walks on Saturdays.
“Many of our members haven’t seen a Local 5 person come to their door before,” said Vogt, whose last name is pronounced “vote.” “Maybe they’ll get a phone call or see our newsletter, but the actual face-to-face, they’ll remember that. And hopefully that translates into them going to the polls.”
Together with Local 5 organizer Bill Garner, Vogt had knocked on about 200 doors by mid-October. With one exception, he’d had warm receptions. He left one retiree’s home with a jar of homemade pickles.
“I look forward to talking to our members, finding out a little about how they live and what they do, and if they have any concerns,” he said.
Wilson, of Local 569, said she’s learned to “kill them with kindness” if voters she’s visiting aren’t friendly right away.
“I was scared when I first started to do it, fear of confrontation,” she said. “But after the second or third door, you’ll find that people are more receptive than you imagine. Even when you do get someone disgruntled, a little rude, you just smile and say, ‘Have a great day!’”
Her Local 569 brother Roman Villalpando, a third-year apprentice and U.S. Navy veteran, has been turned away from a few homes. But when reluctant union members are willing to listen, he tells them, “This is important – the candidates who support labor are the ones who help us get jobs and put food on your family’s table.”
Like others who canvass and phone bank, he’s sometimes rebuffed by people who mistake what he’s doing for soliciting and claim he’s breaking the law. He’s not.
“The only thing I’m selling is the democratic process, and it’s everyone’s duty to participate,” Villalpando said.
|San Diego Local 569 member and active volunteer Jennifer Wilson has been taking her family with her on weekend labor walks. From left: Wilson, sons Christian,13, and Jacob, 17, and her partner, Alexandria.
Overall, the energy among union members heading toward Nov. 6 is palpable, and it goes beyond volunteering.
IBEW brothers and sisters are among thousands of union candidates nationwide – active members, close family and retirees – running for office at every level, from cities, counties, schools and utility districts to statehouses and Congress.
In addition to pitching in on the state’s high-profile U.S. Senate race and supporting other labor-friendly candidates, members of Wheeling, W. Va., Local 141 are determined to return two IBEW incumbents to the Statehouse – Del. Shawn Fluharty, an honorary member of the local whose journeyman father was a member for decades, and Del. Phil Diserio, retired president of Steubenville, Ohio, Local 246.
Not that long ago, recalls organizer and Local 141 President Doug Giffin, “we’d have one guy stand up at our meetings and give a political report.” That changed after 2014, when Republicans took control of the state House and Senate and went on the attack against unions, passing right-to-work and repealing prevailing wage.
“The newly elected officials were taking marching orders from some pretty deep pockets,” Giffin said. “We hit back with local campaigns, member education and did radio shows with the Upper Ohio Valley building trades.”
Between those fights, the energy around the 2016 elections and the way West Virginia teachers galvanized the union movement earlier this year, Giffin said it’s not unusual at today’s meetings for eight or 10 people to talk about politics.
“With prevailing wage and jobs going away, and right-to-work, they could see that politics does have a big outcome on your ability to earn a living,” he said.
In Colorado’s El Paso County, Local 113 Treasurer Ken Schauer said he and others knocking on doors have seen a sharp shift recently in union members’ awareness. “It was like one day everyone woke up and educated themselves,” he said. “I think the election switch finally got flipped.”
|Like many IBEW locals around the country, Wheeling, W. Va., Local 141 has yard signs available supporting pro-worker candidates at all levels of government.
According to Schauer, who is on special assignment to the local labor council through the election and knows the nitty-gritty about every race from mayors to members of Congress, change is afoot in the traditionally conservative Colorado Springs area. Today, Independents are the largest group of registered voters, numbering about 170,000. But registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats by a significant margin.
“We cannot win a state election without flipping conservatives here,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to be doing what we’re doing. We’re having an impact, but we have to stay engaged.”
The same resolve is evident throughout the Sixth District, where its five Midwestern states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin – include four battleground races for governor, three for statehouse control and two for the U.S. Senate.
Ruhmkorff said local leaders have done an excellent job educating and motivating members, helping them see for themselves the direct line between their family’s economic security and the people in power.
Divided government in Illinois has been a perfect illustration. As Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has attacked unions and workers’ rights on every front the past four years, the Democratic-controlled Legislature has been a roadblock, protecting prevailing wage and blocking right-to-work.
But Rauner’s still managed to do plenty of damage. His refusal to fund public infrastructure has cost thousands of jobs and put lives at risk by stalling road and bridge repairs and other critical projects.
In Minnesota, it’s been the governor protecting workers against a heavily GOP-controlled statehouse, including a Senate supermajority. “Governor Dayton has truly been our backstop,” Ruhmkorff said. “Minnesota is not a right-to-work state only because of him.”
Members understand what could happen without the governor in their corner, he said, and with Dayton retiring, they are fighting to elect pro-worker candidate and current U.S. Congressman Tim Walz.
Walz and Rauner’s Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker, are ahead in the polls, and Ruhmkorff is cautiously optimistic about other major races in his district. As he sees the tide turn for workers in various races, he’s proud of the role IBEW members are playing.
“A lot of the credit goes to President Stephenson for getting us started earlier,” he said. “I think it’s paying dividends, being out there in July and August and getting volunteers engaged instead of waiting until after Labor Day.”
Stephenson said he’s been gratified and inspired seeing the IBEW’s plan in action and the enthusiasm pouring from members, locals, and districts.
“I’m awed by the time and energy and dedication that IBEW members are bringing to campaigns all over the country,” he said. “I hope everyone will think about taking part in a labor walk, making some phone calls or just talking to your friends and neighbors about what’s at stake.
“Above all, vote. And if you happen to be on the receiving end of a get-out-the-vote call from a union brother or sister, or you find them on your doorstep, please be welcoming. They’re fighting for you.”
We’d love to know what you’re doing to get out the vote. Whether it’s labor walks, phone calls or anything else, please email us at email@example.com and share photos and captions on social media with the hashtag #IBEWVotes2018.