The coronavirus has curtailed political activities all around the country. In Arizona, for example, a planned Local 104 picnic honoring its 75th anniversary that was expected to draw former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont last Saturday was cancelled. But behind-the-scenes efforts to build union power in advance of the 2020 election continues.
Labor leaders in Maricopa County, Ariz. gathered late last week to interview state and local government candidates. There, they heard about their plans for workers, especially in these uncertain times. And those running for office made it clear there is much they believe elected officials can do to help hardworking Arizonans.
They met candidates such as Jevin Hodge, a former staffer in the Obama White House who is now seeking an open seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Hodge, who has already received the endorsement of Local 104, noted he came from a union family and understood the role local government has in helping workers.
“This is the meat-and-potatoes of politics,” he said. “This is where the action happens. You need someone in this seat who knows how to talk to people.”
Dawn Schumann, Local 104’s political coordinator, vouched for Hodge’s candidacy. “We need people who are going to fight for our workers’ rights,” she said. “We need to build the middle class. When it comes to big stuff, when it comes to infrastructure, one of the first names I’m going to call is Jevin.”
While much of the focus often turns to federal races, union representatives were quick to add that there is much state and local government can do to help workers. After all, it the state that creates labor laws and regulations there, and also sets voting rules. Also, local government can create project labor agreements and make it easier for local public workers to organize.
Before COVID-19 shut down political activities, however, the Teamsters were doing anything and everything they could in the Sunshine State to ensure that our next president is a leader who puts the needs and concerns of working families above all other priorities.
A Statewide Effort in Florida
Much like the Arizona Teamsters, local unions in Florida were preparing to educate and mobilize members to vote on workers’ issues in the recent presidential primary election. While the coronavirus cut short many of the union’s activities, both leaders and rank and file members had mounted an impressive, coordinated effort across the state.
Teamsters Local 769 is the largest local union in Florida, which means they are a crucial entity for pro-worker politicians in the perennial battleground state. With members as far north as Orlando and as far south as Key West, Local 769 leaders know that it’s imperative that they engage every worker that they represent in preparation for the upcoming election.
One of the largest bargaining units under Local 769’s jurisdiction is a UPS terminal in Miami. Local 769 members who work there like Michael Vaez and Kevin Gonzalez are keenly aware of the importance of participating in elections.
“It’s important that we get out there and vote in the 2020 election because getting the right candidates in there is beneficial to all of us,” said Vaez. “It’s one of the most important things you can do. Rock the vote!”
“Voting is the backbone of our society,” said Gonzalez. “It’s the best way of expressing what you think is right.”
In the northwest corner of Florida, Local 991 shop steward Justin Peacock was gearing up to visit the Tallahassee UPS facility as a political field organizer (PFO), to mobilize Teamsters around pro-worker candidates up and down the ballot. A Teamster for over 20 years, Peacock is a dedicated political advocate. This past year, he joined Teamsters members from across the state, along with a coalition of labor allies in Tallahassee to lobby against HB 1 and SB 804, which would create unnecessary, cumbersome regulations regarding the authorization of union dues. Thanks in part to the lobbying he did, the legislation was not passed into law.
“Through all of this work we do – getting down there, being involved, going and talking to all of these senators and representatives – it can change people’s minds if they know that there’s enough people out there who are against it and enough union members who are affected by it,” Peacock said. “I watched it work, it’s amazing. I’ve had a good time doing this, it’s a lot of fun.”
Although Peacock’s worksite activity was cut short due to the coronavirus, he sees the work that he’ll be doing through the election as an extension of that philosophy – that if enough people are involved, it can make a difference.
“We need a President that’s pro-labor,” Peacock said. “We need a president who is secure better pay for people. Business is good, but wages haven’t increased. That needs to change and we need to make that happen.”
Local 385 is another political powerhouse in Florida, and a perfect example of how the Teamsters Union is empowering their rank-and-file members to take ownership of political organizing. Jeanette Roddy and Linda James are drivers at MV Transportation in Orlando who have taken on roles as Political Field Organizers for the duration of the election cycle.
Although discouraged when plans to talk about the upcoming election with fellow members at their bus yard, as well as the members working at the Orlando Airport Budget, Avis and Hertz locations were canceled, the two newest Teamster Political Field organizers noted how this reinforced the need for elected leaders that stand with workers.
“It’s important for Teamsters like us to get involved in politics because the laws and rules that govern our life and who we put in charge of those laws and rules determine our future,” said James. “Having people on our side benefits not just us but the generations to come.”
There’s a lot of us, and we need to be able help to each other out by voicing our opinions at the ballot box,” Roddy said. “That’s why we need to vote, vote, vote!”