With ballots still being counted in some races, this much is certain: At least 743 past and present union members will give voice to workers in statehouses, Congress and other political offices when new sessions convene in January.
Those numbers – calculated by the AFL-CIO – are just one measurement of success for the IBEW and for union members nationwide, whose exhaustive work knocking on doors, making phone calls and more helped educate and turn out record numbers of voters for a midterm election.
From the power shift in the U.S. House to electing worker-friendly governors, state lawmakers, mayors, city councilors, school board members and officials at all levels of government, union members played a huge role.
“Watching the election results come in, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the hard work so many of you put in over the last many months,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.
|Throughout the fall campaign season, San Diego Local 569 members turned out in force for weekend labor walks. Among the pro-worker candidates they supported, Nathan Fletcher was elected to the San Diego Board of Supervisors and Dr. Jen Campbell to the San Diego City Council.
“We didn’t win every race we wanted to, but we made important gains,” he said. “We’re ready to work with political leaders on both sides to get good things done for our members, their families and all working people.”
Stephenson was in Madison, Wis., on election night, where Sixth District locals helped put an end to eight years of Scott Walker’s union-busting regime and sent anti-union Gov. Bruce Rauner packing in Illinois.
“The voices of working people were heard loud and clear,” Sixth District International Vice President David Ruhmkorff said. “After years of attacks on working families by state administrations our members finally had enough. They went to the polls and voted for their self-interests.”
Celebrating Wisconsin’s victories, Milwaukee Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh said IBEW’s strong ground game paid dividends.
“Doors are the gold standard of campaign tactics,” Warsh said. “Personal contact with a friendly face at the door makes a lasting impression. Wisconsinites have been inundated with TV commercials and radio ads, robocalls and campaign mail pieces. We have found great reception on the doors to our message of the need to defend the working class.”
The Chicago Sun-Times heralded labor’s success at the polls with an editorial titled, “Unions won big on Election Day – a victory for working people.”
“Working people need an advocate more than ever, as hourly wages stagnate and the wealth gap between the richest and poorest Americans grows ever wider,” the editorial stated. “It is not enough to have a booming economy. The rewards for all that hard work must be fairly distributed.
“Unions play an essential role in bettering the lives of working people, as millions of Midwestern voters seemed to understand on Tuesday. The great union-bashing right-to-work crusade — really just a happy-face slogan for efforts to kill unions — has been derailed in Illinois, at least for now.”
The key, Stephenson said, was sticking to the issues at the center of working peoples’ lives.
“Whether it was protecting Social Security and Medicare or making sure that folks with pre-existing medical conditions can get the care they need; or making sure that working people have the right to join together in union and negotiate for a fair deal at work; or putting an end to the partisan gerrymandering that stacks the political deck against the least powerful; we stood up and made ourselves heard and backed candidates – regardless of party – who pledged to put working people first,” he said.
In Oregon, IBEW locals talked to members about the pro-worker policies that Gov. Kate Brown had pursued and “how important it is to have someone who promotes apprenticeship and values the trades,” said Marcy Grail, political affairs and communication representative for Portland Local 125.
Polls showed a tight race, but Brown held onto her seat. “With her leadership, we know that Oregon will continue to give working people the opportunity to decide whether they want to join labor unions and collectively bargain,” Grail said.
The same could be said of Gov. Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania, who easily won re-election on Tuesday thanks, in part, to the efforts of union members. In the last several months, Wolf pledged millions in state funding to apprenticeships and worker training programs, and his attention to working families was rewarded at the polls.
In addition to Wisconsin and Illinois, five other governor’s offices flipped in workers’ favor Tuesday – Michigan, Nevada, Kansas, Maine and New Mexico. In all, voters elected 23 pro-worker governors, with Stacey Abrams’ race in Georgia and Andrew Gillum’s in Florida still unresolved.
Workers made gains in state legislatures across the country, and six chambers have new worker-friendly majorities: the Senate in Colorado, Maine and New York, the House in Minnesota and both chambers in New Hampshire.
Idaho’s House of Representatives has a new IBEW voice, with Pocatello Local 449 member Chris Abernathy’s surprise defeat of an incumbent. The first-time candidate didn’t know he’d won the close race until checking his phone Wednesday morning.
“I want to represent the people who go to work every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and make a living for their families and hopefully have a comfortable living,” Abernathy told the Idaho State Journal.
Stephenson congratulated Abernathy and saluted the many IBEW members around the country who ran for office at every level.
“Win or lose, you brought workers’ issues and economic realities to the forefront of your races – you made sure that the news media and your opponents had to talk about things that directly affect the lives of working people,” he said. “If you fell short at the ballot box this time, I hope you’ll try again. You’ve learned so much. You’ve proven your endurance. You’re exactly the kind of leaders we need.”