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Labor chief Trumka vows stronger ground game for elections

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2012

The nation's largest labor federation says it is ready to unleash a new and improved political program ahead of the November elections, with expanded outreach and more volunteers than past elections.

AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka on Thursday outlined a strategy that will put an emphasis on grass-roots efforts over TV ads, vowing that at least 400,000 volunteers — 100,000 more than during the 2008 election season — soon will hit the streets nationwide in support of President Obama and other union-backed candidates.

"You won't see us doing all the ads, all the anonymous ads," he said during a briefing with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "We turn out people at the grass-roots level, something [anti-union groups and candidates] can't do. And this time, we're going to try to do it even better."

The federation already is training more than 300,000 volunteers for ground-game efforts, such as going door to door and making telephone calls to prospective voters. The campaign officially will kick off Aug. 25 in 27 states, expanding to all 50 states in the subsequent weeks.

New laws allow labor activists to have more contact with voters in nonunion households — a demographic Mr. Trumka vows not to ignore.

"It used to be that we would do a door-knock, and there'd be 500 houses in a small community, and if 100 were union, we had to skip 400 houses. Now we're going to be able to go to those 400 houses, talk to them about the issues," he said.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 AFL-CIO poll monitors also will be assigned to voting stations throughout the country, Mr. Trumka said.

And unlike past years, the federation's volunteer corps will stay active indefinitely after the November elections in order to build a permanent grass-roots structure.

The AFL-CIO will focus on 20 battleground states, with a special emphasis on Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Mr. Trumka wouldn't say how much money the federation plans to spend this election season, saying only it will have "ample resources" comparable with four years ago.

Mr. Trumka said the federation opposed the 2010 Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision that struck down most limits on corporate and union spending in elections, saying the new laws are "corrosive to the system." But with corporations using the new rules to spend tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to influence elections nationwide, the AFL-CIO, he said, won't sit by idly.

"Since it's there, we'll use a small part of it," he said. That effort will be used to reach nonunion workers via the AFL-CIO's super PAC, Workers Voice.

Organized labor has lost some of its political strength in recent decades, as its membership numbers dwindled. The most recent setback was its failure to oust Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker — who in 2011 ushered in many anti-union policies — in a June recall election.

But Mr. Trumka said the effort wasn't a total loss, as the recall drive denied Republicans control of the state Senate.

Mr. Trumka predicted Mr. Obama will win a close race over presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney in November. He also expects Democrats will retain their slim majority in the Senate and gain seats in the House — though he wouldn't go as far as to say they'll win back the lower chamber.

"It remains a possibility" that Democrats will win the House, he said. "I wouldn't rule that out, but I'm not going to bet the ranch on that as well."

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