“Brothers and sisters, we are at a significant moment in our history. When historians put pen to paper years from now, they will write about our decisions in 2020. We’ll all have to ask ourselves, ‘Did I do enough? Did you do enough?’ And most importantly, ‘Did we do enough?’”
St. Paul, Minn., Local 110 video
Using social media to the fullest, St. Paul, Minn., Local 110 is creating memes featuring members to illustrate how vital it is to elect pro-worker candidates Nov. 3. Pictured: Fifth-year apprentice Drew Nelson.
The roar of a rally crowd, volunteers at your door, shaking a candidate’s hand at the union hall and other hallmarks of election season are as traditional in autumn as football.
But this fall, COVID-19 has forced campaigns and activists to come up with a new game plan for getting out the vote, including the strongest pitch ever for voting by mail — and for doing it now.
“This is an election year like no other — the highest stakes for workers and greatest hurdles all at once,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “I’m so inspired by the way brothers and sisters at every level of the IBEW are meeting the challenge.
“Make no mistake,” he said. “When the votes are counted Nov. 3, the outcome will come down to union members’ turnout and the efforts we make now to inform and mobilize others.”
That means union members will decide whether the next president stands with workers or Wall Street. Whether the Senate fights for working people for the first time in a decade or whether Mitch McConnell deals irreparable blows to Social Security, Medicare and workers’ rights. Whether the U.S. House and statehouses across the country will protect working families or abandon them.
Emphasizing that power, the pandemic’s reboot of get-out-the-vote campaigns are in full swing throughout the labor movement, bolstered by a wealth of AFL-CIO resources and materials that means no union had to start from scratch.
Innovations include virtual GOTV training, expanded online toolkits and IBEWVotes2020.org, where you can check your voter registration status in a matter of seconds, register to vote, and apply for a mail ballot.
With limits on labor walks and mass-gathering campaign events, local unions are making greater use of social media, posting more often and in some cases adding platforms such as Snapchat that appeal to younger members.
And while it may seem counterintuitive, there’s more emphasis on member-to-member outreach on jobsites. That’s because workers already are wearing masks, social distancing and following other safety rules.
“It’s such a different dynamic now, the lack of actually getting out and hitting the streets,” said Shawn Reents, international representative and Wisconsin political coordinator. “Some locals are really jumping in with both feet. They’re in constant communication with their members, identifying unregistered or dropped voters, taking all the right steps.”
Wisconsin is a key battleground state in the race for the White House, but there’s urgency at the state level, too.
IBEW members are helping fight to “Save the Veto,” a campaign to hold, if not gain, friendly seats in the Statehouse. Otherwise, the GOP has a shot at a supermajority that would override the power of pro-union Gov. Tony Evers to protect workers.
In Wisconsin on Labor Day, Senator and VP nominee Kamala Harris gets a tour of Milwaukee Local 494’s training center. Her guides included Michele Robinson, at right, a member and instructor who also chairs the local’s SISTERS committee.
The labor vote in 2018 carried Evers to victory, ending Gov. Scott Walker’s bid for a third term of attacks on workers.
Wisconsin unions are reminding members how much damage Walker and the GOP majority did, a long list that includes slashing benefits and bargaining rights of public workers enacting right-to-work, ending project labor agreements and shrinking the journeyman-apprentice ratio on construction sites.
Next door in Minnesota, another battleground state, Saint Paul Local 110 has put a new spin on political action. The Rapid Response program calls on a committed and growing team of members and retirees to act swiftly, whether it’s GOTV or a battle at City Hall.
Local registrar Brian Winkelaar nurtured the idea for years, rolling it out this spring as the virus demanded new ways to engage and deploy members.
Rather than start with an email blast and hope for the best, Winkelaar’s Rapid Response activists are at the ready with specific roles. For example, he said, “This group of people over here will post to social media, this group will call their city council member, this one will phone bank.”
From fresh approaches like Rapid Response to social media, jobsite conversations, facts sheets emailed by business managers and more, locals around the country are following and building on the IBEW playbook.
Activists say one especially helpful tool has been a list of the powers the president has outside the legislative process to affect workers’ rights, safety and financial security.
Presidents appoint the judges who have the final say when workers are wronged by employers, they select who sits on the National Labor Relations Board, who runs the Labor Department, heads the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and fills every other position in government that can help or harm workers.
“When we cast our votes for president, we’re not just electing one person. We’re electing all the people who will be appointed to decide the fate of our rights and safety at work for at least four years,” Stephenson said.
“Those appointments have hurt us badly the past four. years Our rights have been eroded and it’s only going to get worse unless there is change at the top. We know Joe Biden will look out for us and listen to us when he fills those positions. And the reason we know it is that Joe Biden has been fighting for workers and unions for 50 years.”