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Rules of the Game: Unions Leveraging Election Day Wins

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Trumka’s AFL-CIO is continuing the work it started on the campaign trail, voicing support for social welfare programs.

The elections sent a clear message that voters support tax hikes for the wealthy and oppose cuts in entitlements programs, they argue, and polls seem to bear that out. If President Barack Obama signaled some flexibility on entitlements changes before Election Day, labor leaders have shown no such willingness to bend.

“The problem has been tax cuts for the rich, and fighting unfunded wars, not that people are getting too much Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid,” Podhorzer said. “Those programs are keeping people alive. And I’m sure we won’t be compromising on those points at all.”

Leading the charge in the grass-roots campaign to block entitlements cuts are the same unions that spent heavily and organized record numbers of volunteers in the 2012 elections.

In addition to the AFL-CIO, these include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union.

“It was an easy transition for our members, who were already fired up from the election,” said NEA Government Relations Director Mary Kusler. The NEA mobilized almost 500,000 members to help re-elect Obama, according to Kusler, more than twice the 190,000 NEA volunteers who hit the campaign trail in 2008.

AFSCME organizers have also essentially kept their campaign infrastructure in place, spokesman Chris Fleming said. Labor organizers staged grass-roots demonstrations on Nov. 8 to launch their advocacy campaign to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from the chopping block.

“It’s the campaign that never ends — because we haven’t stopped,” he said. “Labor didn’t pick up its tent and go home after the election.”

Labor organizers are also working closely with a much larger progressive coalition that includes civil rights, health care, community and senior citizen groups.

Key players involved in the Monday demonstrations include MoveOn.org, the umbrella group Jobs With Justice, and a new liberal coalition dubbed The Action, which in part has set out to mobilize some of the Democratic volunteers who helped re-elect Obama.

“People recognize what’s at stake here,” SEIU Director of Government Relations Peter Colavito said. “I think our members and people from their communities will be coming back to Washington to make their voices heard on these issues.”

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