Dennis Mitchell builds tires at a plant in Buffalo, New York, alongside his co-workers in United Steelworkers (USW) Local 135. In this election season, he’s also busy talking to voters about strengthening the middle class and making sure working people across the country can get good-paying jobs.
“I feel like we’re at a tipping point right now,” Dennis said. He is supporting Hillary Clinton because of her proven record. “She has fought for children, for working families, for the country itself,” he continued. As for Hillary Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, “he is only out for himself,” said Dennis, and he’s not the candidate “who will bring back manufacturing, to change some of the trade deals we’ve had in the past, to build our communities.”
Hillary Clinton served as a U.S. senator from New York, so Dennis has seen how much she cares about workers. When she’d come to a labor function or a ribbon cutting, “she spoke directly to us and she was very sincere when she would address our needs,” said Dennis. “She is the candidate for not only our membership, but all of the middle class.”
Dennis has experienced first-hand the pitfalls of a fragile economy. As a kid growing up in south Buffalo in the 1970s, manufacturing jobs left his area, factories closed down and he saw his neighborhood “kind of rust away.” When he got out of the Navy, he found work with a temporary agency.
For two years, he and his co-workers tore down the old Republic Steel factory. Dennis remembers going through the plant and seeing lockers that were still full and shoes still under the benches.
That experience has stayed with him, and now, through his political work, Dennis wants to make sure that never happens to another family or community.
After the temp agency, Dennis found work at a union shop and became a member of the USW. The difference was stark. With his union, he had job security and benefits. Most importantly, he had a seat at the table to bargain in good faith with the company.
Dennis Mitchell gets ready to talk to union members in New Hampshire about the 2016 election.
Dennis believes that to restore and strengthen the middle class, it will take electing leaders, from the president of the United States, all the way down to local officials, who support working families and will fight to make it easier to form or join a union.
The country needs candidates “who will work for us, work for labor and working families,” he said. “When I look at my nieces and my nephews and my great-nieces and nephews, I want them to have the same opportunity that we’ve had and that our parents wanted for us.”
A Steelworker's Mission: Rebuilding Opportunity originally appeared on the AFL-CIO's Medium publication, By Our Hands.