Submitted by the Executive Council
Referred to the Political Committee
THE SUSTAINED AND GROWING COMMITMENT of workers to political participation led to a resounding and complete repudiation of the radical right’s anti-worker agenda in the 2006 and 2008 elections. This creates a rare historical moment that offers workers the prospect of progress and the possibility of rebuilding America’s middle class.
How did we get here? In 1994, the union political movement reached its nadir. Union voters, discouraged by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and defeat of health care reform, among other things, constituted a smaller share of the electorate than they had just two years before, and fully 40 percent of members voted for anti-worker congressional candidates. In sum, that was a primary reason why Republicans took control of the U.S. House and Senate, gaining 59 seats in the House, 10 seats in the Senate and 10 governors’ mansions.
Against this backdrop, the American labor movement changed course and committed itself to reversing this environment. In 1995, the Executive Council and affiliates of the AFL-CIO committed themselves to a political program whose foundation was the reinvigoration of rankand-file member mobilization. They recognized that unless union leaders, stewards and members began to educate and mobilize each other about the economic stakes of political outcomes, the union movement would continue to decline and the middle class would disappear.
The American labor movement fought back and rose to the challenge. Steadily, over the next 13 years, the AFL-CIO and each of its affiliates began to invest more, and invest more effectively, in member education and mobilization. This unprecedented effort has paid off dramatically:
- The number of Democrats in the House of Representatives has increased from 197 in 1995 to 257 today, and Nancy Pelosi has replaced Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House.
- Membership in the Democratic caucus in the Senate has increased from 47 in 1995 to 60 today, a filibuster-proof majority.
- The first African American president was elected in 2008, and he has reiterated his commitment to enacting labor law reform and national health care reform, among many other worker priorities.
As instrumental as developing and maximizing opportunities for members to volunteer, talk to each other and make their voices heard at the ballot box has been, the bedrock of the program’s success is the recognition that for union members, elections are a means to improve their families’ well-being and security, not an end in itself. The political program has been inextricably linked to issue campaigns, both to defeat threats such as Social Security privatization and bad trade agreements and to advance crucial priorities such as labor law reform, health care reform, infrastructure investment, green jobs, raising the minimum wage and fully funding education and community services. For example, during Labor 2008 more than 1 million cards were collected supporting passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
As the American people reject the failed legacies of the Bush years, the labor movement stands ready to lead with a comprehensive agenda to rebuild the middle class and restore the dignity of all workers with a powerful grassroots network in place to hold the politicians it elected accountable for enacting that agenda.
The Executive Council, the Political Committee of the Executive Council and the political directors of the affiliated unions played an indispensible role in driving this transformation.
- The Political Committee of the Executive Council provided the strategic framework and leadership to develop a sophisticated plan to reverse the defeats of the previous two cycles.
- The Executive Council fully resourced the plans laid out by the Political Committee, helping to ensure success.
- In both elections, many presidents and principal officers stepped up, adopting key battleground states and spending much of the fall in those states, generating enthusiasm and activities.
- The affiliates’ officers ensured that Labor 2006 and 2008 would be fully staffed by providing thousands of release staff.
- Some affiliates went a crucial step further and used their PAC money to produce highly effective independent expenditure campaigns that were instrumental in many House and Senate victories.
Since the last Convention in 2005, the pillars of the political programs—Labor 2006 through Labor 2008—have engaged union members and their families in the political process in numerous ways:
- At the worksite: The core of the labor program is members talking to members in the workplace. In 1996, only 17 percent of union members reported being contacted in the worksite; by 2008, when 29 million leaflets were distributed in the workplace, more than half reported such contact. And 9,000 local union coordinators participated in the program.
- In their neighborhoods: In 1996, fewer than 3 percent of members recalled being contacted at their homes by fellow union members. By 2008, the walk program had more than quadrupled, to 14 million door knocks reaching 15 percent of the membership at least once.
- From their local unions: Through rallies, meetings, mailings and volunteer phone banks (in many cases coordinated with the AFL-CIO).
- From their international unions: Virtually all of the AFL-CIO-affiliated unions communicated directly with their members and provided the unified labor program with hundreds of release staff and more than 300,000 volunteers.
- From the AFL-CIO: Labor 2008 produced 56.7 million pieces of mail (including many of the local union pieces described above). The AFL-CIO also made more than 75.5 million phone calls.
In 2003, recognizing the urgent need to provide workers who do not have collective bargaining contracts a voice on key issues important to working families and in the political process, the AFL-CIO founded Working America as our community affiliate. Working America’s 3 million members are primarily working-class moderates who do not have a union on the job but share a desire for good jobs and a just economy. Many had become alienated by the unresponsiveness of the political and legislative processes, but are drawn to the power of strength in numbers that Working America represents.
In 2007 and 2008, Working America members took 650,000 actions on economic issues, with more than 300,000 signing a petition urging health care reform and more than 130,000 writing postcards supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. They also focused on local issues, writing thousands of letters in support of Ohio’s renewable energy bill and paid family leave in New Jersey.
In 2008, Working America members voted for Barack Obama by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Working America has helped provide the winning margin in more than 200 elections of candidates to the U.S. Senate and state legislatures, mayors and governors, as well as school levies and ballot initiatives.
Working America currently is active in 12 states. Since its inception, it has operated in 25 states.
Other features of the political program include:
- Veterans: Union members are second to none in their patriotism and in rallying to fight for their country. In 2004, the AFL-CIO began to develop a political outreach program based on the earned credibility of union veterans. This program has blossomed into a formal Union Veterans Council, which not only enhances the federation’s political work but also ensures that union veteran voices are heard in policy debates. In 2008, union veterans played a crucial role in defining John McCain. They were able to acknowledge his patriotism but credibly convey how damaging his anti-worker agenda would be. Their protests and other educational activities at McCain’s public events through the spring and summer drew widespread media coverage.
- Alliance for Retired Americans: Recognizing the changing demographics of union members, in 2001 the Executive Council created the Alliance for Retired Americans to build a progressive, grassroots retiree movement. The Alliance has doubled in size since then, now with 3.7 million members,
30 chartered state alliances and more than 1,400 affiliated chapters. The 300,000 members of the Alliance’s Community Action Network help build closer ties between labor and community-based activists. In 2005, the Alliance fought for current and future retirees and helped lead the successful campaign to defeat President George W. Bush’s dangerous plan to privatize Social Security. In the 2006 and 2008 elections, the Alliance educated and mobilized its members to help elect pro-retiree majorities in Congress and President Barack Obama. With nearly 90 paid staff across the country in 2008, the Alliance sounded alarm bells about McCain’s anti-Social Security voting record and public statements. Also that year, the Alliance’s Political Action Committee ran paid TV spots in 23 key congressional races and presidential battlegrounds. The Alliance has created a number of successful earned media campaigns, including Social Security Truth Trucks, Retiree Road Runner caravans, bus trips to Canada to purchase prescription drugs and delivering donuts to lawmakers to call attention to the Medicare Part D “donut hole.” The Alliance’s direct-mail campaign has generated contributions from more than 200,000 retirees to help support these key initiatives. This directmail fundraising effort is the most successful program of its kind in the history of the labor movement.
• Voter protection: After the debacle of the 2000 presidential elections in Florida, the AFLCIO began working with its national coalition partners, state federations and central labor councils to aggressively ensure that all votes are counted. In 2008, the AFL-CIO worked with local voting rights coalitions in 11 states, conducted early advocacy with local election officials, filed lawsuits against secretaries of state and monitored more than 1,000 polling places on Election Day.
- Unified labor movement: After the 2005 disaffiliation of several unions, the AFL-CIO immediately took aggressive steps to keep the local labor movement unified. Through the Solidarity Charter program, state federations, central labor councils and area labor federations were able to retain the affiliation of the majority of local unions whose national unions had disaffiliated. This made for an enormous improvement in the efficiency of the operations of Labor 2006 and 2008. And in 2006, the National Labor Coordinating Council was formed, which enabled a number of the disaffiliated unions to partner with Labor 2006 at the national level as well.
- Initiatives: For more than a decade, our right-wing opponents have been attacking and harassing the labor movement through nearly constant hostile ballot initiatives, including paycheck deception, “right to work” for less, Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) and a plethora of others aimed at public-sector workers, especially teachers. Beginning with our resounding defeat of Prop. 226 in California in 1998, we have defeated virtually every one of the right’s anti-worker initiatives, while passing increases in the minimum wages ourselves in a number of states. Working with the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), the AFL-CIO has helped unify the labor movement in opposition to anti-worker ballot initiatives and has helped formulate and qualify proactive ballot measures as well.
- Training: Beginning with Labor 1996, training has been at the heart of the labor program to create a growing generation of local labor leaders with the skill and confidence to conduct state and local member mobilization programs. In Labor 2008, we held 18 general field trainings, assisted with the development of training programs for seven affiliates, developed training materials and held several interactive webinars per week for users of the various Labor 2008 tools.
- Electing union members: In 1997, we began calling attention to the fact that our elected leaders do not look like the American people—neither by race nor class. As a result, government decisions were less likely to fully reflect the needs of working people. So we began what was originally called Project 2000—an effort to elect more than 2,000 union members to office by 2000. Since exceeding that goal in 2000, the targets have been set higher, and now there are more than a dozen union members in the U.S. House and Senate.
- Diversity: A key component of the political program since 2006 has been increasing the activism and leadership of women and people of color. We have pursued this goal through special trainings and proactive recruitment and development of women and people of color as volunteers, release staff, zone and state coordinators and as candidates for public office.
- Vote by mail and early vote: Over the past two election cycles, there has been an explosion in early voting—whether in person or through no-excuse voting by mail. More than 30 percent of votes in 2008 were cast before Election Day, a record. As more states began to liberalize their early voting and vote-by-mail laws in 2006, the AFL-CIO saw this as a way to further maximize turnout by union members. The AFL-CIO developed a systematic program to encourage workers to request absentee ballots, intensively follow up with those who did and, by daily checking with election officials, determine whether those who had requested ballots had voted, and if they had not, we continued to follow up with them. In Oregon, more than 90 percent of union members voted.
- Nonpartisan registration and GOTV: The AFL-CIO continued its longstanding commitment to expanding the electorate and the voices heard in the political process through its support of the excellent nonpartisan voter registration and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts conducted by constituency groups and affiliates. In 2006, the AFL-CIO formed Voices for Working Families, whose field operations registered and turned out tens of thousands of voters. For Labor 2008, activities were concentrated in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin.
- Candidate forums and worker round-tables: During the Democratic presidential primary season, the AFL-CIO hosted town halls with each of the major contenders, both to educate them about the working families’ agenda and to hear their platforms. Those individual town halls culminated in the August 2007 presidential debate, where the candidates faced off on worker issues before 18,000 union members at Soldier Field in Chicago and a live national cable network audience. Labor 2008, through state federations and other local bodies, conducted numerous worker town halls, worker roundtables and debates featuring candidates for federal and state offices.
- Internal communications: During the 2008 cycle, the AFL-CIO Political Department put 14 internal communications coordinators in battleground states. These coordinators were responsible for increasing the urgency around the field political program and improving internal communications. They (1) produced a weekly leadership newsletter sent out to as many as 10,000 leaders in each of the key states highlighting the field program and its core message and spotlighting unions and their locals’ programmatic activities; (2) featured U.S. Senate candidates (and dozens more downballot candidates) appearing on video before the election to support the Employee Free Choice Act and the four pillars of the program; (3) shot, directed and edited more than 2,000 videos of the political program in action in the field, which were viewed more than 190,000 times; (4) identified and delivered regular content to 900 local union publications in the targeted states; (5) shot and utilized more than 15,000 photos from Labor 2008, which were viewed more than 400,000 times; and (6) established websites and blogs in these key targeted states, which generated more than 225,000 unique visitors.
Innovation and accountability have contributed enormously to the political program’s successes. Among the most important examples are the following:
• The online Working Families Toolkit
enables affiliates, their locals, state federations, central labor councils and area labor federations to create customized fliers for use in worksites and in neighborhood walks. This ability to customize message and messenger maximizes the credibility, relevance and impact of our member-to-member communication.
• The Labor Action Network (LAN) enables
affiliates to have secure Internet access to their membership lists instantly (16 are currently participating). This has greatly improved the accuracy of the lists, which can be updated at any time, and has reduced costs and the time it takes to produce lists for walks, local union mail and phone banks.
- The Local Union Database (LUD) now contains information about more than 9,000 major locals, including the names of officers, local political coordinators, work shifts and records of activities. The record of activities provides the locals, affiliates and political program staff the tools and information they need to set goals and hold local coordinators accountable.
- E-mail and the Internet. The AFL-CIO and its affiliates sent more than 14 million targeted e-mail messages to members in 2008, and created such popular websites as “McCain Revealed” and “Meet Barack Obama,” which by themselves garnered more than half a million hits. We posted videos to YouTube of local union members that have had more than half a million views. One in five union members reported either receiving e-mail about the 2008 election or visiting a union website for political information.
- Data-driven politics and accountability. A core principle of the political program has been to develop data for better and more costeffective decision making, as well as creating reliable metrics with which to hold itself accountable. Following Bush’s victory in 2004, the AFL-CIO played a leading role in creating Catalist, which has produced the best national voter file in the country. Other areas in which the AFL-CIO has taken the lead:
- Microtargeting. In 2003, the AFL-CIO began experimenting with microtargeting, with the aim of creating a cost-effective, long-term communication program aimed at union members at greatest risk to defect to Bush in the 2004 elections.
- Real-time testing of political materials and messages. Traditionally, both in the campaigns and in organizations’ political programs, decisions about specific tactics have been subjective. In 2003, the AFL-CIO began developing tools for testing the effectiveness of its communications and for minimizing the cost of its communications.
- Another central feature of the political program is constant tracking of union political communication and its effect throughout the fall of each election year. Each week, literally thousands of survey responses from the AFSCME phone bank and robo-surveys (see below), as well as IDs collected by Working America and volunteer walk and phone programs, are integrated into advanced targeting and message development. This enables us to continuously update our targeting, which in turn has enabled us to nimbly shift resources to remaining undecided voters and improve the voting performance of union members and households in every cycle since 2000.
- In 2008, the AFL-CIO took the lead in creating the Polling Consortium, which enables us, with our key allies, to pool all of our polling. We now have a data set with more than 500,000 interviews, which is integrated into the voter file, and geographically based economic data and media market-based data on ad buys by candidates and business. The polling consortium has enabled us to have both a wider and a deeper knowledge of what is happening in politics and to save money for the movement by reducing polling costs and identifying and focusing resources on races that are most in play.
- In 2008, the AFL-CIO helped found The Analyst Institute, an independent and independently funded organization dedicated to using rigorous testing to determine best campaign practices.
- Beginning in 2006, the AFL-CIO acquired extensive in-house robo-capacity. This has allowed us to save hundreds of thousands of dollars for the political program, as well as for affiliates that use the equipment for their calls. In 2008, the AFL-CIO helped fund the independent National Opinion Surveys, which uses the equipment to conduct highquality robo-surveys, which have eliminated our need for much more costly live polling in many circumstances.
Now the country faces the legacy of the Bush administration—nearly unprecedented economic challenges, including the highest unemployment rates seen in decades, bankruptcy of the nation’s major automobile manufacturers, the precipitous decline in construction and the harsh threats to jobs everywhere, health care and pensions of public employees and more broadly the near collapse of the banking system and recklessness and lawlessness of the investment firms. In fact, the Bush administration merely culminates more than 30 years of corporate ascendance that included both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Although the president and the leadership of Congress have committed themselves to enacting the Employee Free Choice Act and national health care reform, among many other planks of the Working Family Agenda, none of these initiatives will be enacted without a massive mobilization by the labor movement.
Indeed, the corporate community already has mounted a several-hundred-million-dollar campaign to defeat progress for working men and women and to deny them the basic human right to join a union. The corporate community plans to spend unprecedented sums in the 2010 and 2012 elections to roll back and prevent further worker gains.
At the state and local levels, workers find themselves under even greater attack, especially in so-called “right to work” states.
Looking Forward to the 2010 Elections and Beyond
The 2010 cycle will be crucial for the labor movement. Already it is clear there will be key Senate and governors’ races in 24 states (including Virginia and New Jersey in 2009). In addition, races for governor and state legislatures will take on extreme importance, as those elected this cycle will draw the district boundaries that will shape congressional and local races for the next decade.
Despite the collapse of the Republican Party’s credibility in the wake of its failures of the past eight years, there are a number of danger signs ahead:
- An economy that is sluggish at best and most likely will be accompanied by a jobless recovery in the short term;
- The need for another robust stimulus to avert massive state budget cuts that otherwise would be necessary;
- The need for full funding of infrastructure projects, without which the prospects of putting people back to work dim;
- The need to find a way to energize the so-called surge voters of 2008 (more than one in nine voters cast their first ballot in 2008). This group is overwhelmingly progressive. Current polling shows that among voters who cast ballots in the last off-year election (2006), nearly all of the Democratic advantage disappears.
And, in addition to candidate elections, workers will face numerous threats by initiatives, including TABOR and the so-called “SOS” (Save Our Secret Ballot) initiatives.
Maximizing the union vote in union-dense states has been the foundational formula for progressive recovery. It was the centerpiece of the resolution adopted by the 2005 Convention, “A Plan to Help Workers Win,” which laid this out and culminated in our 2008 victories. Of the 54 House seats picked up by Democrats in the past two elections, 34 have come from union-dense states. Indeed, according to 2006 exit polls, it was only the enormous margin run up by union household voters that enabled the Democrats to retake the House. (Nonunion households voted 49 percent for Democrats to 49 percent for Republicans). The same is true for taking back the Senate that year, with at least three races decided by the margin among union households. Of the 29 states Barack Obama won, 23 had union density greater than 10 percent. Of the districts in which the AFL-CIO alone constituted more than 5 percent of the voting-age population, Democratic House candidates won 152 districts and lost 69. But in states with less than 5 percent AFL-CIO density, Republicans won 109 seats and Democrats won 105.
But the 2010 Census is likely to lead to a shift from union-dense states to more conservative (and mostly “right to work”) states. Currently, it is estimated that union-dense states such as New York, Ohio and Michigan will lose a total of
10 seats, while “right to work” states will gain 10—which is literally like losing all of Minnesota’s electoral votes and the entire Massachusetts delegation in Congress.
Additionally, it has taken only a few months to remind us of the consequences of the inherent anti-worker bias of the Senate. Progress for workers depends on getting 60 votes, yet with the Republican Party rejecting major reforms, we must continuously muster all of the 60 Democratic caucus votes. This is not a new or unanticipated challenge. The constitutional character and rules of the Senate are a barrier to change, allowing segregationists to stymie serious progress on civil rights for nearly a century, and continually holding back progress for workers. For example, the last major attempt to pass labor law reform, 30 years ago, passed the House with 252 votes but was killed by cloture in the Senate, even though the bill had 58 supporters.
As remarkable as the labor movement’s defeat of more than a dozen conservative senators is, no one should assume that 60 Democrats automatically equals a filibuster-proof majority when it comes to taking on the corporate agenda. A clear-eyed analysis of the Senate Democrats reveals this: Only 40 Democrats represent states that voted strongly for President Obama. Arguably, you can add Sens. Harry Reid, Sherrod Brown, Tom Harkin and Claire McCaskill as regular allies. Another six Democrats are from “purple” states, in which the Democratic Senate candidate ran ahead of Obama. All six of those Democrats are needed just to get to 50. Another 10 Democratic senators represent states that voted for McCain. The conclusion: To invoke cloture and enact meaningful legislation, every single Democrat who represents a state that President Obama lost must vote with us. On issue after issue, whether it’s the Employee Free Choice Act or health care reform, tough choices must often be made to build a winning coalition. At this watershed moment of Republican failure and repudiation, this dynamic is unacceptable and must be addressed by strong leadership from the labor movement.
For the past 50 years, the American labor movement has been in the vanguard of constructing an electoral coalition of union members, African Americans and Hispanics. Demographic trends are moving rapidly to increase the strength of this coalition. Indeed, Hispanics and African Americans have accounted for more than half of the growth in population in the past 20 years. To get a full sense of the magnitude of the changes that are occurring, consider this: Had Michael Dukakis faced an electorate of the same racial and ethnic proportions as existed in the 2008 electorate, he would have tied George Bush.
What this means is that a number of lower density “right to work” states have moved into play, and more will do so over the next decade. A priority for the labor movement must be strengthening coalitions in those states and, especially with the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, increasing union density in those states. In many ways, Colorado is an exemplar of this trend—a state that has moved from “red” to “blue” in six years but still fails to enact a pro-worker agenda.
We should focus on the “right to work” states that are expected to see the greatest growth in the union—African American, Hispanic, Asian American—coalition. Moreover, especially for the mid-range, focusing on local jurisdictions such as counties, municipalities and school districts where this coalition can be strengthened can play a major role in advancing public-sector and building trades membership.
We therefore resolve to:
- Accelerate the integration of political and legislative mobilization. Now that we are in a position to advance a proactive agenda for working people, it is imperative that we have seamless political and legislative mobilizations. Union members must hold the politicians we elect to the promises they make to win our support. Those politicians who do not support the working family agenda must be held accountable—at and between elections:
- Continue and expand affiliate staff release, so the labor movement has boots on the ground, not just to win the GOTV battle on Election Day, but to win the signature legislative pieces of the working families agenda.
- Expand the number of states in which there are full-time campaign directors through joint planning and training, working with and through the state federations, central labor councils and area labor federations to create robust and permanent member mobilization and rapid-response programs, which can be used to advance the labor program in Congress and the state legislatures.
2. Expand and strengthen the labor movement in targeted states with lower union density. We will not win our legislative agenda without doing so, nor secure a stronger base for national electoral success.
- Build and expand our alliances with people of color, as well as with young voters, retirees, working women, people of faith and union members who are hunters and sports enthusiasts.
- Strategically begin campaigns to reverse “right to work” in selected states.
- Strategically expand campaigns to win “fair share” campaigns in selected “right to work” states.
3. Increase our efforts to recruit, train and elect union members to local, state and federal offices.
4. Continue to strengthen and expand Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate.
- Extend Working America’s outreach and mobilization into additional key states;
- Increasingly engage Working America members in key national, state and local struggles, including the fight for labor law reform, national health care, fair trade agreements, green jobs and reliable pensions;
- Hold politicians accountable at the ballot box at every level, from school boards to the president of the United States;
- Increasingly engage Working America members in non-legislative struggles, including campaigns confronting anti-worker corporations;
- With passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, engage Working America members
in local organizing efforts and contract campaigns;
- Encourage affiliate financial support for Working America.
5. Continue to set our political endorsements based on the interests of working families, not one party or the other. We will work on a bipartisan basis to elect candidates to public office who support a pro-working families agenda, recognizing that neither political party is entitled to our automatic support. Democrats should not expect to be endorsed by the labor movement without earning that support, and Republicans who want to work on behalf of working people should be given an opportunity to do so. Our endorsement process must be transparent. The AFL-CIO will take steps to ensure that local union leaders are informed about the issues and records of candidates who have worked with unions in Washington, D.C., to advance a pro working families agenda.
6. The AFL-CIO must build on its proven political program by continuing to innovate and provide affiliates with the technological tools needed to compete in the 21st century as core components of the Member Mobilization Fund.
7. The AFL-CIO should continue to make maximum efforts to unite the labor movement, both through its highly successful Solidarity Charter program at the local level and through greater affiliations at the national level.
8. In the past several years, a number of important coalitions have been formed to bring together the disparate elements of the progressive movement. As the voice for working people, the AFL-CIO must engage those organizations and expand its role leading the progressive movement. At the same time, the labor movement must adhere to the priorities of working families.
9. The labor movement must play a proactive and leadership role in ensuring that the 2010 redistricting is fair to working people and people of color, including, among other things, full support for the Foundation for the Future and its work.
10. The labor movement should continue to ensure that all votes are counted through its aggressive voter protection programs.
11. The federation and the affiliates should maximize voter registration among union members and their families, and maximize union members’ voting by mail where that is legal. 12. The AFL-CIO should support the independent expenditure and issue media work of its affiliates and play a more active role itself.
13. The Convention affirms that the labor movement will not support candidates for federal office who oppose working families by voting against their interests on key issues such as the Employee Free Choice Act or health care reform.
14. The AFL-CIO should continue to support and succeed in electing key pro-worker candidates and should ensure that sufficient resources are available to achieve our goals.