The Teamsters Union has taken an active role in the presidential primaries and caucuses, making sure everyone exercises their right to vote and gets involved in this election cycle. The union has been working behind the scenes to get members to the polls and to elect union-friendly candidates.
Teamster volunteers visit worksites to talk to their co-workers about the union’s top concerns and about getting out to vote. There has been an unprecedented effort to mobilize members, retirees and their families to have an impact on the policies taken by candidates.
“The Teamsters are taking our role in helping shape this country’s path forward seriously,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “It’s why the union rolled out a plan to get involved early in the 2020 election cycle and it’s why our members and retirees have been crisscrossing early primary states as well as general election battleground states to get the candidates on the record on issues that matter most to working Americans.”
As candidates have campaigned across the country, Teamsters have been there every step of the way. Members have been holding candidates accountable and pressing them to take pro-worker positions.
In an effort to make workers’ issues front and center during the primaries, in December the union hosted the Teamsters Vote 2020 Presidential Forum, co-sponsored by The Guardian and the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times newspapers. Six Democratic presidential candidates argued why they would be the best choice for workers before an audience of 700 Teamsters and retirees.
Now, worker and union issues are front and center. Candidates wouldn’t be talking about pensions or bargaining rights unless the union and rank-and-file Teamsters had pressed them.
The primary season is near its end, but the Teamsters have been preparing for this election for a long time.
“Our local has been at this for a while. In the summer, we started deciding what we wanted to get to our members,” said Mike Sanchez, Local 710 Trustee. “We’re also trying to hit events where there are presidential candidates, encouraging our members to vote, getting as much information to them as we can. We’re hoping it leads to more workers being engaged in the election process.”
Members have said that their main concerns going into the next presidential election are pension reform and collective bargaining rights. There is an unprecedented effort to make sure those voices are heard.
At press time, the Teamsters Union had not endorsed a candidate yet, but that hasn’t stopped the union from getting members out to vote.
In the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, Teamsters handed out fliers and encouraged workers to get out and vote at nearly two dozen different worksites.
On a cold and dank Monday morning before the state’s primary, members of Local 633 were outside a Nashua UPS facility talking to workers about why they should vote the next day as package drivers and pre-loaders were coming on and off the clock, some of the 210 Teamsters who work there.
Similar conditions met volunteers and workers at the Chelmsford, Mass. UPS facility, the biggest in New England with about 1,500 workers. About 40 percent of those who work there live in New Hampshire, so Local 25 members were on hand to make sure they would be turning out to vote. Local 633 volunteers, meanwhile, closed out the day at a First Student facility in North Hampton, where 59 bus drivers were showing up for the afternoon shift.
Dennis Caza, the local’s political coordinator and retired President, said getting out the vote is important, even in a primary where the union hasn’t endorsed a candidate.
“We’re trying to elect people who will do good work for the unions, and people in general,” he said. “We need to build up the middle class.”
Temperatures had sunk to negative digits in Minnesota before the state’s March 3 presidential primary. It was a freezing Friday morning but Teamsters in the North Star State refused to let a frigid forecast get in the way of the early voting effort.
For Local 120 Political Director Paul Slattery, the weeks leading up to Super Tuesday would be critical, especially in Minnesota—one of the few states in the country with the luxury of early voting by mail. For the previous week, he had been crisscrossing the state, traveling from worksite to worksite to urge members to vote in the primary.
In just a few days, Slattery visited Kemp’s Dairy in Rochester, First Student yards in Oakdale and Arlington, and First Transit yards in Roseville and Burnsville.
“The local is here to remind you all to vote in the primary on Super Tuesday and give you the opportunity to vote by mail,” Slattery told the crowd of Local 120 members at Murphy’s Warehouse in Shakopee. “There is no excuse not to vote in this election.”
Policy Over Politics
John Trettin Jr., a forklift operator at Murphy Warehouse and second-generation Teamster with Local 120, was already looking forward to casting his vote in Minnesota’s primary.
“We are excited to make our voice heard. This election isn’t about one particular party or candidate, it’s about the issues facing workers. This election is about policy over politics—for me and my co-workers, it is all about who will look out for workers,” Tettin said, noting that he plans to vote for the candidate who “understands the importance of workers having a union in their corner.”
A couple of days later, warmer air had returned to the state and Local 120 was at it again, with Slattery cooking hotdogs and encouraging workers at UNFI to make sure their voices were heard on Super Tuesday.
“Teamsters in Minnesota are united this election when it comes to voting for candidates who support workers and understand the value unions bring to this country,” said Tom Erickson, President of Local 120.
Top Issues in S.C.
South Carolina takes their early primary seriously, and the Teamsters took advantage of that to make their voices heard. Throughout 2019, Local 509 members traveled around the state to raise questions to candidates and push them to stand by unions. They successfully met every Democratic candidate for president and got them on the record on a number of important issues.
“We’re a right-to-work state here in South Carolina and it’s no joke,” said Local 509 business agent and political coordinator Sebrina Isom. “It gets much harder to organize when you’re getting the police called on you for trying to talk to workers. We need a candidate who will stand up and make sure the NLRB is serving those who are trying to organize here in South Carolina. People shouldn’t have to be afraid or intimidated at work for trying to form a union.”
Like many Teamsters across the country, pensions and collective bargaining rights are at the forefront in South Carolina.
“For me it’s about pensions,” said Lynnwood Perry, shop steward at AGY, a manufacturing plant in Aiken, S.C. “I’ve been working for a long time paying into this pension, and I’m not one of those young guys, my time is coming and I need to know that my pension will be there for me.”
Candidates Show Support
Candidates for president want the support of the Teamsters Union. When the field was more crowded, sometimes several candidates would show up at union events or strikes to show support for workers, as was the case in Las Vegas at the end of February. Presidential hopefuls made a point to visit hundreds of union members that were practice picketing outside the Palms Resort and Casino.
Members from Teamsters Local 986, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the Bartenders Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501 staged a practice picket line outside the casino to protest the continued refusal of the Station Casinos-operated property to negotiate contracts with the unions.
“Las Vegas is a union town, and the Democratic presidential candidates understand the importance of having labor’s support,” said Chris Griswold, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 986. “Having the majority of the candidates turn out to participate in the picket with us the day of the debate showed they can walk the walk and not just talk the talk.”
Then-candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, Vice President Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer all marched with picketers during the action. Each one spoke briefly to the union members and press, all promoting their pro-labor platforms and making their case to potential participants in the caucus on Saturday.
“I thought that the candidates that marched with us were doing their part to show their support. It felt great,” said Damian Serrano, a Local 986 member and Palms valet that has worked at the casino for 10 years. “I have noticed an increased focus on union members by the Democratic candidates this time around and they are at least showing now that they will stand by us in our fight.”
Las Vegas Teamsters GOTV
While the candidates were doing their best to convince union members to support their campaign, Teamster organizers and political coordinators were pounding the pavement across Las Vegas to encourage members to caucus for pro-worker candidates.
Early morning and late-night visits to Teamster worksites enabled representatives of Locals 631 and 986 to speak with members about the importance of the caucus.
“We have been hitting worksites across the city for the last few weeks to get our members out for the caucus,” sad Francisco Miranda, organizer and political coordinator for Local 631. “We’ve spoken to hundreds of Teamsters, encouraging them to participate in the process. It doesn’t matter who they support, only that they exercise their right to caucus.”
Jose A. Sosa, a Local 631 member and steward at Rinker Materials in Las Vegas, has been doing his part to spread the word and help educate his fellow workers about the caucus and the candidates.
“We encourage the guys to get out and vote, give them fliers with information about the teamstersvote.com website where they can get even more details about the issues and the candidates,” Sosa said.
Sosa, who immigrated to the United States in 2003 from Mexico, became an American citizen at the end of February. And while he wasn’t able to caucus this time around, he will be able to vote in the election in November.
“I am really excited about the election, and nervous at the same time,” Sosa said. “The emotion I am feeling about having a voice in choosing our next president is hard to describe. I just want our next president to do their best to help union members and the middle class.”
For more information, visit teamstersvote.com.