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Donald Norcross

When Union Members Run, They Win

1,500 union members ran for office in 2018 and 2/3 won

Posted on
Nov 06, 2019

For years unions and federations like the New Jersey State AFL-CIO have been encouraging and training members to run for office. Now those efforts are starting to pay off. Read more about this from the Huffpost.

Labor unions are seeing a surge of support. They’re more popular than they have been at any point in the last 15 years, and a majority of Americans believe that the declines in union membership are bad for the country. Democratic presidential candidates are embracing unions, appearing on picket lines and talking about strengthening the labor movement in ways the party hadn’t for much of the past decade. 

The labor community, in turn, is increasingly recognizing the need to get its members into public office ― and putting more resources into doing so.

“For years and years and years, we’ve been told that the economy is like the weather: There’s nothing you can do about it,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “That’s simply not true. The economy’s nothing but a set of rules, and those rules are made by the men and women we elect. For decades, those rules have been designed for us to lose and for the rich and powerful to win.”

In the 2018 election cycle, the labor federation endorsed about 1,500 union members for elected office at the local, state and federal levels. Most were Democrats, but there were also some Republicans and independents. Two-thirds of them won.

In 2019, 88 union candidates endorsed by the AFL-CIO have won in spring and summer elections, and it has nearly 500 candidates running this fall. The union also launched a new website Wednesday about the impact of its candidate program. 

The focus on getting union members into office came out of a resolution at the AFL-CIO’s 2017 convention affirming an “urgent need” to step up such efforts.

Historically, unions have had a large role in elections, fielding candidates and providing money and boots on the ground.

The AFL-CIO’s state federations and affiliates have played a key part in identifying, recruiting and electing union members. The New Jersey AFL-CIO, for example, has been running a program that has led to more than 1,000 of its members getting elected to public office since 1997. Unions like the American Federation of Teachers, which is part of the AFL-CIO, have been out front and vocal about their election work. 

Once in office, union members have helped push back against groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has successfully advanced conservative priorities ― things like “stand your ground” and anti-immigrant laws ― at the state level for years. 

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