In Age of COVID-19, Traditional Tactics Not Possible
The work of educating and getting people out as primaries in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and to vote in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has been completely turned on its head. The usual process of worksite visits and holding rallies and other public events for now are impossible.
But the Teamsters have found a way forward, and it might be a new model which could be used not only for the November vote, but all elections in the future. The union, working with its locals and Joint Councils, has used methods old and new during elections and primaries in May and June to reach out to members, get them registered to vote and to vote by mail as concerns about COVID-19 continue.
Harnessing the power of social media, the Teamsters have connected members with tools to vote from the safety of their homes. Meanwhile, they also had members reach out to members via texting and phone calls to get them interested in voting. The union instituted programs to get members involved as part of a Wisconsin U.S. House special election in May as well as primaries in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and Pennsylvania in June.
Educate and Engage
In Pennsylvania, for example, the Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters hosted a statewide call for shop stewards to learn more about the process to vote by mail and opportunities to educate and engage members to support endorsed candidates.
Hearing from elected officials like state Attorney General Josh Shapiro that clearly stand on the side of workers is a good reminder of how important it is to elect pro-union candidates – especially in times like this.
Jeannette Barnes, field representative for the Teamsters Department of Political and Legislative Action, said the call allowed the union to hear from stewards in Pennsylvania about what was the best way to reach out to their workers.
“We created a steward’s toolkit so they would just go online and print out different fliers to post on bulletin boards,” she said. The union also got 92 stewards across the state to phone bank and use the Hustle app to text members.
Coordinated Local Network
Meanwhile, local unions in Nevada ran a robust, multi-pronged campaign to encourage members to vote for pro-worker candidates.
The hallmark of their program was a coordinated network between locals made up of full-time union staff and rank-and-file political activists that dedicated their time and energy to reaching out directly to their members. The program included text messages, phone calls, worksite fliers and a unique program of empowering stewards to share important messages leading up to the election.
“There’s a connection with the members,” said Francisco Miranda, a Local 631 business agent and its political coordinator. “Everyone is involved with doing something new, and it’s obviously working.”
Beverly Williams, a Local 986 business agent, trustee and its political coordinator, said word is getting out about what the Teamsters are doing, and others in labor are interested.
Williams, who is also Secretary-Treasurer of the Southern Nevada Central Labor Council, said leaders and other unions were impressed and reached out to her after hearing how the Teamsters were conducting their outreach during the pandemic. “This can be used somewhere else because it was so easy,” she said. “They are able to see that we are doing our part. It’s exciting.”
The Teamsters see these changes not as a disruption, but as evolution. These new tactics are ones the union can add to its already powerful arsenal. They will complement more traditional methods of communicating with members and make the union more politically powerful.
Members know what a difference voting makes when it comes to vital things from workplace safety to retirement security. It’s the Teamsters’ job as a union to provide in-depth information on the candidates and connect them with the easiest/safest ways to vote.
Erica Goldblatt, a shop steward with Local 856 in San Francisco who did work on behalf of Local 533 in Reno, Nev. in the lead up to the state’s primary, said she is hopeful the efforts will also be successful for the November general election.
“I do think it is an effective model,” she said. “Our main goal was to make sure members could vote, and people appreciated that.”