Activist locals lead by example, help elect Obama and other pro-worker candidates
IT SHOULD COME as no surprise that a Boilermaker appeared in Barack Obama’s half-hour, prime-time television commercial that aired Oct. 29 — an ad that was seen by more than 33 million viewers. After all, Boilermaker volunteers across the country worked tirelessly to push for working family candidates and the promise of change.
The Boilermaker in that commercial was Fred Chamberlain, Vice President of Local 19 (Philadelphia). Chamberlain appears in a segment that was filmed just before the Pennsylvania primary election back in March. In that clip, Obama addresses a small group at the West Avenue Grille in Jenkintown, Pa.
“Four of us from the shipyard took a day of vacation and went up there to campaign for Obama and for Tim Murphy [U.S. Congressman, 18th-District, PA],” Chamberlain recalled. The Obama campaign picked Chamberlain to take part in the commercial. “At the time, I had no idea how that commercial would be used — or that it would later become part of the half-hour ad.”
Chamberlain is one of the many members who donated their time and energy to changing the political direction of this country. And Local 19 is one of the many locals that got behind worker-friendly candidates during the long 2007-08 election cycle.
Evidence of Boilermaker activity can be seen in the videos that have appeared on YouTube, a popular video-sharing Web site, and on the AFL-CIO Web site. In one clip, Jim Chase, President of Local 920 (Portsmouth, N.H.), appears at a Labor Day breakfast in Manchester, N.H. Chase is seen urging union voters to back Obama, saying, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.”
In another clip, Local 29 (Boston) member Ed Gorham, who is also president of the Maine AFL-CIO, describes in one word what change means to him: “Jobs!”
Other clips show Boilermakers talking about jobs and workplace issues. Mike Griffith, a member of Local D263 (Clark, Nev.) explains his concerns about free trade; at Local 696 (Marinette, Wis.) members pass out leaflets supporting worker issues as a night shift comes on at the shipyard; and in Colorado, IR Jim Cooksey leaflets the Comanche Power Plant in Pueblo.
“The efforts of our locals and our members in this historic election have been nothing short of phenomenal,” said Intl. Pres. Newton B. Jones. “There can be no doubt that Boilermaker activism — and the work of organized labor as a whole — helped win key races for pro-worker candidates and helped put a strong union supporter in the White House. I know I speak for all the International officers in saying that we’re proud of the work done by our members, our locals, and the Government Affairs Department (GAD) during this long election cycle.”
GAD Director Bridget Martin said, “This year’s campaign was the largest, broadest and most targeted effort in Boilermaker history. We ran a nine-month mobilization program to engage our members on the economy, energy, pensions, health care, and other issues important to working families. Our program reached union members, members of union households, and retirees. The Boilermakers engaged in three gubernatorial races, 13 senate races, and 60 house contests, as well as the presidential race.
“Over the course of the campaign, Boilermakers made phone calls, knocked on doors, delivered flyers at worksites, and sent local union mail. The International also made phone calls and sent mail to targeted union households in critical battleground states. More union members heard from our union this election cycle than ever before. And thanks to voluntary financial contributions from our members, we helped fund the campaigns of pro-worker House and Senate candidates.”
Unions show strength beyond their numbers
AS A PERCENTAGE of U.S. workers, union members have dwindled to about 12 percent (from a high of 35 percent in the 1950s). But you wouldn’t know that come election time. Unions – including Boilermakers – know how to mobilize and get out the vote.
In battleground (or “swing” states), AFL-CIO union members supported Obama by more than 2-1. On Election Day, 70 percent of union members viewed Obama positively, according to polling.
To get a sense of the magnitude of union political involvement, consider just one of the swing states, Pennsylvania. The state’s AFL-CIO Council reported that, with four days left before the election, labor had already placed more than one million phone calls to union members and their families, knocked on over 600,000 doors, and distributed 3.5 million union flyers to over 500 worksites.
Nationwide, union volunteers made 76 million phone calls, knocked on 14 million doors, and delivered 29 million flyers at worksites. The AFL-CIO and its affiliate unions sent 57 million pieces of mail to union households this year. As a result of this effort, 84 percent of union members in battleground states said they heard from their union this election cycle.
Boilermaker locals and their members played a big role in Pennsylvania, as they did in other swing states and across the country. Boilermakers received media attention in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Virginia.
Virginia became one of the most closely-watched swing states in the nation. The Boilermakers’ own Cecil Conroy, Research and Legislative Assistant to the GAD Director, served as the AFL-CIO’s Labor 2008 director in that state. Conroy led labor’s successful effort there, helping turn Virginia from red to blue. Virginia went for Obama, and pro-worker candidates picked up three seats in the U.S. House and one in the U.S. Senate.
Brotherhood anticipates seat at the table
IN ANNOUNCING the Brotherhood’s early endorsement of Barack Obama, IP Jones described how long and hard he and the International Executive Council weighed the merits of the various candidates. Ultimately, that decision was based on who would best serve the interest of Boilermaker members and the country as a whole.
The qualities of Barack Obama — his support for labor unions, his commitment to the Employee Free Choice Act, his backing of clean coal technology, his desire to protect pensions, and his many other pro-worker positions — made him the logical choice.
The Boilermakers’ commitment and support have not been lost on the Obama-Biden ticket. At the Greensboro, N.C., rally Oct. 27, Sen. Biden invited IP Jones into a tent where an inner circle of supporters (called a “clutch”) gathered. “You will have a seat at the table,” Biden told Jones. “We will not forget labor unions.”
Then, on Nov. 3, in Manassas, Va., at his last rally before the election, Sen. Obama also invited Jones into the clutch. Outside the tent, the Boilermakers’ RV — which has been a symbol of the Brotherhood’s support for Obama — sat alongside the Obama motorcade. The crowd on that day swelled to 90,000 people.
“Sen. Obama thanked me personally in Manassas for the work our locals and our members have done for him,” said Jones. “As president-elect, he now will begin to assess and prepare for the challenges facing our country. As he does so, I am confident that he will give the Brotherhood and all unions a fair hearing on the issues that are vital to us.”