September 19, 2011
By Marc Bussanich
Because of Anthony Wiener’s Twitter peccadilloes earlier in the summer, New York unions’ political action committees had to dedicate precious resources to the David Weprin campaign for the special election in the 9th Congressional District. They also volunteered for Dan Quart’s campaign in the 73rd Assembly District, where members of Metallic Leathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46 were calling the citizenry from their union hall.
Special or not, elections represent both an opportunity and challenge to unions, and in challenging economic times, elections seem to take on special significance.
G.L. Tyler, political action director for AFSCME DC 1707, said the first step in preparing for and carrying out an election strategy is to educate the membership and public about the issues the candidates are pursuing.
Of course the union can recommend or endorse a candidate, but ultimately members vote based on their political values. But Tyler was quick to note that when the members are educated about the issues, they typically don’t vote against their own interests. “Many of our members have been volunteering for the Weprin campaign because they recognize that Tea Party-backed candidates’ talk for small government may threaten their livelihoods.”
Indeed, DC 1707’s members’ livelihoods are directly affected by the city’s financial commitment to fund critical social services such as daycare and Head Start centers. And because the city government is considering closing multiple centers, Tyler said the union’s political action agenda going forward will be to build coalitions with organizations such as the Children Defense Fund and strengthen ties with city council members to stop the possible underfunding.
Jack Kittle, DC 9 IUPAT’s Political Director, said that elections provide DC 9 with the opportunity to display strength. “When our members are hitting the streets giving out information during an election, I want that non-union painter to think to himself when he’s walking home from work, ‘Christ, how many of those guys are there?’”
Kittle said elections also give him the opportunity to identify among DC 9 volunteers the most energetic, whose energy can be very useful during organizing drives. “When I notice those volunteers who are engaging people and explaining the issues, I’ll talk with them about the importance of organizing and joining the organizing committee, because at the end of the day, it’s all about organizing new members and work opportunities.”
CSEA Local 1000 AFSCME members also depend on the city and state budget being fiscally sound for their livelihoods. Matt D’Amico, Political Director at CSEA, said that volunteers will send out mailings and follow-up with phone calls with their fellow members especially in districts where the race is very close. Damico noted that it’s just as important for the union to watch closely the developments in the budget debate post-election, where, incredulously, the state government is seeking to introduce yet another tier to the already five-tier pension system.