How to be Labor Strong
As we begin to sign off for Labor Day weekend, we want to celebrate the skilled professionals who keep our country moving every day. Union workers are the backbone of our economy.
Labor unions are powerful political forces. When running for office, endorsements from unions in your district provide a “seal of approval,” encouraging members to vote for that candidate.
We often run into progressive candidates who are not familiar with organized labor and don’t know how to access their endorsements or understand their endorsement processes. Here are some tips!
Learn the traditions of your area
Individual Local Unions, Regional Central Labor Councils (CLCs), State Labor Councils (note – in some states they are simply called STATE NAME AFL-CIO) and Building Trade Councils all endorse candidates and ballot issues. However, not every union endorses. Some individual unions will wait for the Central Labor Councils to make a decision and follow the group endorsement; other unions will want to endorse early to influence the decision of the CLC. Not all unions may be part of the CLC or the State Labor Council and may have their own process outside of that.
In some states, Building Trades Councils work with the CLC and make a joint endorsement; others follow their own process. Ask and learn. We often advise candidates to have an informal coffee with union political directors before their process formally begins so they can get to know each other, and the candidates can begin to learn the issues of that particular union. Read their websites and understand who they represent, where their members are located and what legislative issues they are focused on.
Find a mentor
Find a trusted mentor within labor activism or leadership who has advised candidates in your area and learn the relationships. Some examples: a union activist who is also a member of the local Democratic Party, former labor friendly elected officials from your district, a PAC director from a local union, an elected official who is close to labor and even a member of the labor council whose endorsement you are seeking – these are people who can all provide helpful information and guidance. These are also people who can help you prepare for the questionnaire and interview process.
As you start making outreach to organized labor, remember that in some unions the political director is also the legislative director and has responsibilities at the state capitol as well, or in other unions they may be a member who has a full-time job in addition to their union responsibilities. So time your calls accordingly, and don’t be afraid to call more than once – you’re probably not the only candidate reaching out.
You don’t have to be a labor expert to receive an endorsement. It is important to learn the issues and sift through your own values and thinking. For example, are you following the values of organized labor on your own campaign? Are you paying your campaign manager above minimum wage? Do you offer health care or health care reimbursement? Do you use union printers for your printed material?
Questionnaires generally stick to major policy areas of concern to union members. For example, “Do you support or oppose the indexing of the minimum wage so that it is adjusted annually to keep pace with the cost of living?” or “Do you support the expansion of majority sign-up rights (“card check”) to apply to more workers, including farmworkers?”
Like many constituencies, there are particular concepts and acronyms you’re going to be expected to be familiar with, for example, AFL-CIO, prevailing wage, apprenticeship utilization, card-check neutrality, closed shop, project-labor agreement, etc. Do not be like the candidate that we know of whom, when asked about Davis-Bacon, answered, “Is that like Jimmy Dean?”
In addition to the questionnaire, most unions host interviews to learn more about each candidate. This is a good time to share any personal connections you have to the labor movement. For example, do you have family ties to a specific union? Do you have an appreciation for the role that labor plays in our economy? Do you support critical policies like increasing the minimum wage and enforcement of workplace protections? Also, during your interview you will be able to talk about the strength of your campaign – how much money you’ve raised, what endorsements you’ve received, and how many doors you’ve walked.
Unions care if you have had personal experience with their issues. Are you or have you been a member of a labor union? Have you picketed on behalf of striking union members? Do you support pro-labor legislation? Have you proposed or voted in support of policies that support the health and welfare of workers? The interview is an opportunity to show why you care about the issues, and why you, as an individual, are the candidate to endorse.
What do you get?
Unions can provide major support to a candidate’s organization and GOTV efforts. This may include union-produced mailers to members, press releases and earned media, phone banks, door-to-door advocacy and financial contributions. Some labor unions also participate in independent expenditure activity.
In addition, a labor endorsement is a signal to other progressive organizations that this is a candidate to take seriously.
We’re proud of our work with our union clients and union-supported candidates. Let’s talk about what you are working on these days and your upcoming political projects. Use this link and we can find a time to chat: Calendar Link.