Teamsters across the state of Florida geared up for Tuesday’s primary election, registering to vote and requesting to vote from the safety of their homes. Local unions did their part to push union-friendly candidates to victory in this week’s Florida primary, showing once again the power unions can have at the ballot box.
Local 79, located in Tampa, and Local 991, which serves the Florida panhandle, worked in the weeks leading up until Tuesday election to motivate members and get out the vote in support of candidates in their parts of the state. In the end, those efforts contributed to the primary victories of Alan Cohn, a Democrat running for Congress in District 15, and Michelle Salzman, who upset an incumbent in the Republican primary for Florida State House District 1.
As was the case in primaries held in other states since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, much of the outreach efforts were conducted via phone banking, texting and social media. “It was almost zero face-to-face,” said Ken Williams, Local 79’s Recording Secretary. “We had to develop different tools in the toolkit. That meant texting and calling members using updated technology.”
In the Pensacola area, Jim Gookins, Local 991’s Secretary-Treasurer, found a way to socially distance and still get the word out. He said around 10 UPS workers set up a canopy tent to drum up support for Salzman, and the candidate herself ended up dropping in to lend support.
“In the panhandle, we don’t get a lot of that,” he said. “But it went over very, very well.”
Local 991 was drawn to Salzman’s campaign because she expressed interest in their efforts to empower workers. “She understands the piece about the organizing,” Gookins said. “She was very receptive to our conversations.”
Salzman is expected to win in November, given the strong GOP lean in her district. Cohn is going to face a bigger uphill climb. Williams said Republicans have a six percent registration advantage in the 15th Congressional District, but it has been trending Democrat. There is also additional optimism given that incumbent Rep. Ross Spano (R) lost his primary fight.
Given what Local 79’s four political field organizers (PFOs) learned during the primary process, they are ready to ramp up their efforts for November.
“The feedback from the PFOs is that they love the program,” Williams said. “We think this is going to be great.”