|ONLINE VERSION||NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2000|
It seems like only yesterday that we were talking about the "Y2K bug" and the beginning of the new millennium. And, now, the first year of the 21st century is drawing to a close - and what a year it has been.
If I had to pick a slogan to describe the year 2000, it would be a phrase we heard quite often this year - "too close to call." Are working men and women stronger today than we were last year? You betcha. Will we be better off next year with a new Congress and President? Too close to call.
As I am writing this to you, our nation does not know who its next President will be. And the outcome is crucial to the interests of working families. Al Gore campaigned on a working families agenda including supporting the right for a free and independent voice at work. A George Bush Administration means the possibility of a tougher fight to uphold and strengthen the advancements the labor movement has made.
And what about the new Congress? While Democrats made gains in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the final tally fell short of them regaining control in either of these bodies. The good news is that with neither party possessing an overwhelming majority in either body, we may have a real chance of seeing Democrats and Republicans coming together in a bipartisan fashion to move forward on important issues. The bad news is that we could also witness the opposite effect - years of partisan bickering and a real stalemate on issues. Again, it's simply too close to call.
However, partisan fighting aside, what is not too close to call is whether union members made a difference in this election cycle. The answer to this question is a resounding YES. According to a national survey of union members conducted by the independent polling firm Peter Hart Research Associates, union households made up a record high 26 percent of voters in the 2000 elections. This figure is particularly impressive when you take into account that in the 1992 presidential election, only 19 percent of all voters were from union households.
This high turnout rate among members of union households played a pivotal role in many states including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. Union households voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Gore-Lieberman ticket by a margin of 63 percent to 32 percent and mobilized in record numbers around key congressional and state elections. Two "paycheck deception" ballot initiatives that attacked the voice of working families in Oregon were defeated, as were phony school voucher initiatives in Michigan and California.
And, in critical U.S. Senate races such as the contest in Michigan, a tidal wave of support from working families propelled Representative Debbie Stabenow in her race to unseat railroad industry supported incumbent Senator Spencer Abraham. No doubt Senator Abraham's anti- worker stance proved his demise. In Michigan, 43 percent of all voters were members of union households! The story of working people voting in record numbers is the same in races in New York, New Jersey, California, Missouri, Florida, West Virginia and across the country. In Missouri, Jean Carnahan lost the non-union household vote by 6%, but was elected to the Senate because union households voted for her by an 18% margin. Similarly, in West Virginia, Bob Wise lost the non-union household vote by 5%, but was elected governor on the strength of a 35% margin among union households.
While certainly not all labor-supported candidates won their elections, we cannot dispute the fact that the labor movement's grassroots mobilization made the difference in 2000 and will continue to do so in future elections. We should be proud of the unprecedented field activities this year by hard working union members.
The "Labor 2000" program, the labor movement's largest ever, added 2.3 million people in union households to the voter rolls - up from 500,000 added in 1998. More than 1,000 Labor 2000 coordinators, up from 400 in 1998, trained and organized hundreds of thousands of union volunteers to help educate union members about the candidates and work on getting out the vote. And in the final weeks of the campaign, an additional 500 coordinators joined the effort. Labor 2000 activists made eight million personal phone calls and sent out 12 million pieces of mail. And for the first time ever, transportation unions including the BMWE sent out thousands of educational pieces produced by the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department targeting rail and other transportation worker issues. All of this is in addition to the impressive phone bank and mailing efforts conducted by individual union affiliates and state and local labor federations. In total, more than nine out of ten union members received information about the election directly from the labor movement.
Unions also engaged in some innovative activities to get out the vote. Union members mobilized on-line - sending out 60,000 e-vote cards to friends and families encouraging them to vote and downloading 3.5 million leaflets from the AFL-CIO's website to distribute in work sites and neighborhoods. The AFL-CIO's "Working Women Vote" program brought together more than three million working women in forums and roundtable discussions and registered tens of thousands to vote through "ironing board brigades" at work sites and in neighborhoods across the country. And in the final weeks of the election, Labor 2000 conducted a "People Powered" bus tour rolling through 25 cities in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Washington, West Virginia and Oregon.
Perhaps AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said it best right after Election Day, "No other group in America has built a long-lasting structure that can turn out hundreds of thousands of activists in every township in the U.S. ... We've built a solidarity and culture of mobilization that will last."
And, last it must. In an earlier column I wrote about how one vote can make a difference. Little did I know how great a significance that statement would have in this year's election! If any American doubts that their vote counts, this year should set their minds straight. Every vote does count - and your vote can make a difference. Your vote can propel a candidate from "too close to call" to an elected office.
Yes, the year 2000 might be remembered as the year when things were "too close to call." It was definitely a year of excitement and confusion. As we look towards 2001, we must remember that the BMWE has a proud tradition of working with members of both political parties on issues important to our members. We must look at 2001 as a year of opportunity and build upon the solidarity that we created this year. The labor movement has shown that we have a strong and loud voice. Let's use that voice to make 2001 a year of activism and progress for working men and women nationwide.