Panel describes local political activism

L-449 (Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.) Sec-Treas. Warren Demmin.

Passion and power of one vote are key ingredients

THREE LOCAL LEADERS took the podium at the LEAP conference April 23 to describe their lodges’ involvement in political action.

Local 449 (Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.) Sec.-Treas. Warren Demmin said he attended the LEAP conference for the first time last year and became convinced that political action could help his 460 members, employees of Bay Shipbuilding.

Demmin said that with the support of Pres. Mark Kerscher he began talking at union meetings about issues like the Healthy Wisconsin Act, which would offer citizens the same health insurance that is available to state legislators. He sought out members’ opinions and took that information to state and federal politicians. “After that, it kind of steamrolled,” he said. Members began calling politicians. “We told them we were tired of the company firing members for getting sick or taking care of their sick kids.” The local held an informational picket on their issues. “I was impressed with our members,” he said. “Many of them stepped up to the plate and actually debated with people on the street.”

Demmin said the local continues to increase its political involvement, and now politicians come to the union to meet with members — and members are reaching out to help the politicians as well. “A lot of our members realize they have an avenue they didn’t think existed before.

“Getting active in politics is very special to me,” Demmin continued. “This whole thing [political action] is about passion and commitment. If you’re not passionate, the members are going to see it. If you’re not passionate, find someone else who is.”

Another local lodge leader who spoke about passion was Local 19 (Philadelphia) Sec.-Treas. Fred Chamberlain. Representing Boilermakers at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, Local 19 has provided extraordinary volunteer effort during the Democratic primary race in Pennsylvania.

“Anytime the Obama campaign would call on us, we were there — week in, week out,” Chamberlain said. “When the calls first came in, I told [lodge president] Dave Gaillard that we didn’t even have offices to work out of. He said, ‘No excuses, this is what we’re going to do.’ So we got to work.”

Chamberlain described how volunteers took their days off to erect railings at different rally locations. We would go there at 10 o’clock in the morning and stay until 9 o’clock that night. We’d bring six people to a rally in Lancaster; two hours later, we’d shoot back and take six more to a rally in Allentown.”

Chamberlain said his local really got active after an incident several years ago on Capitol Hill. He said after a group of Local 19 delegates were snubbed by then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) the lodge began supporting his opponent, State Treasurer Robert Casey, a Democrat. Casey drubbed Santorum in the November 2006 elections, 59 percent to 41 percent. Local 19’s political activism “snowballed from that. No matter what we turned to, we went at it 1,000 percent. We never stopped.

Chamberlain recalled other situations where it was difficult to set meetings with congressmen. “In one case, I actually went to a high school art show a congressman was attending and waited for him. I asked him if he could give me five minutes.” Chamberlain said they ended up talking for hours. “Sure enough, after that he set up the meeting and came down to the yard to see us. Quite frankly, the last few years, I don’t know of a congressman we haven’t had down to the shipyard to meet the guys down there. From top to bottom and bottom to top, that’s the direction we go.”

For Pat Gallagher, BM-ST of Local 744 (Cleveland, Ohio), the power of one vote is something all locals and individual members should remember. Gallagher presented a list of historical incidents where one vote made a deciding difference.

He noted that by a single vote in 1776, America chose the English language over German, and that in 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon in the race for the presidency by less than one vote per precinct. “Never underestimate the power that one vote has,” he said.

Gallagher also recounted his local’s involvement in the Democratic primary in Ohio. As Local 19 did in Pennsylvania, Local 744 geared up to support Obama’s race. “I myself had to switch gears,” Gallagher admitted, “being a Hillary supporter from kind of a Clinton stronghold in Ohio.”

Gallagher described how he began calling many of his local’s 300 construction members to rally them for Obama. “I was really surprised, because I felt making those phone calls was going to be hard.” He said his secretary urged him to start by calling members under the age of 45. “We ended up with almost 100 members at the rally,” Gallagher said. “I was surprised about how diverse and enthusiastic the group was.

“I believe Sen. Obama is going to be a tremendous leader. I haven’t seen anybody who inspires people the way he does since Bobby Kennedy. He speaks from the heart.”