Unions were California’s election game-changer

OAKLAND, Calif. - Employing a dynamic multi-prong approach that reached 2.8 million non-union voters in addition to 2 million union members, California's labor movement was the game-changer in the state's Democratic election sweep.

Rebecca Greenberg, the California Labor Federation's communications organizer, reported on the federation's website that organized labor combined direct union member-to-member contact, public actions, airing of TV ads, and targeted outreach to non-union voters in multiple languages - both through its own structures and labor-supported independent expenditures campaigns.

Art Pulaski, the labor federation's executive secretary-treasurer, credited the "grassroots campaigning" with "unparalleled intensity" by nearly 30,000 union volunteers aware of the high election stakes in which Republicans openly attacked "working people's ideas" and their unions.

Except for the still-to-be decided state attorney general's race, Democrats took all statewide races, including the offices of governor and state insurance commissioner previously in Republican hands.

In the congressional and state legislative races the two major parties ended up with the same number of seats as before, with Democrats having the majority in both cases.

Mike Garcia, spearheading SEIU's "Cambiando (Changing) California" campaign that targeted Latinos, said labor's election activities were "the most unified, cooperative and strongest effort I have ever experienced."

Pooling their resources, two or more unions teamed up to take responsibility for different pieces of what was one single overall thrust.

During the summer, labor-supported independent expenditure efforts combined to reach key constituencies with TV ads and through targeted communication to voters, singling out Meg Whitman, the multi-billionaire Republican gubernatorial candidate, who by election night would spend a record $180 million.

At the same time, labor launched several media-grabbing public actions wherever she would appear publicly, tagging her as "Queen Meg."

These labor initiatives are credited with holding down Whitman's poll numbers during the summer before Jerry Brown, her Democratic opponent with far less cash on hand, unleashed his campaign in September when voters start paying closer attention.

On Labor Day, the labor movement fully launched its multi-pronged offensive.

The unions reached out to their members by phone, at their homes and work-sites.

Through the "Million More Voters" micro-targeting program to non-union voters, labor focused on the rural Central Valley and urban Inland Empire, "swing areas of the state," as well as with key groups like blue-collar workers, Latinos and Asian Americans.

"It has helped us really understand a big portion of the electorate who are working class people but who are not our members," said Pulaski referring to the micro-targeting program that the federation used for the first time in this election.

Micro-targeting, or direct marketing data-mining techniques, is nowadays being used with increased frequency by election campaigns to identify and track potential supporters.

Employing message research techniques, sophisticated Internet outreach, targeted phoning and mailing, and member-to-member contact, labor reached a record 4.8 million union and non-union voters - in English and Spanish, and in four Asian languages.

While not by itself, this approach combined with TV ads aired by labor-backed independent expenditure campaigns contributed to the advantage Brown had over Whitman among Latino voters, which went from 14 points on Labor Day to 34 points on Election Day, and to high overall Latino turnout.

By election night Brown would trounce his opponent by 13 points and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer defeated her opposition by 9 points. Both remained neck and neck with their Republican counter-parts during the earlier campaigning.


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  • This message is for the GOP Lawmakers who seem to be determined to destroy the Unions and Public employees rights. I would like to put in a few good words for public employees. I know that they work very hard. I was a public employee. On the bottom the salary is usually close to minimum wage. If they didn't have the benefits, people wouldn't want the jobs, and somebody needs to do the work. The public employees salaries, benefits, and unions are not the problem with our financial crisis. It is the waste of other funded programs. Especially in the Central Valley of California. California has the highest rate of citizens, on welfare, than any other State in the United States.
    I understand when people have to use it, if they loose their jobs and have little children at home, or mothers who do not have a husband. But it was not meant for people to live on it the rest of their lives. Why not create jobs for these people, instead of picking on the People who do work for a living.

    Posted by Marie Bufkin, 02/26/2011 4:31pm (5 years ago)

  • Hello, ROB, about your questions, I didn't want them to go unanswered. California is in such a mess because we're still at a lower stage of struggle against capitalism than we would like to be in an ideal world. What in particular is the mess you've run across? Of course, not, all of Califs probs are not solved.

    Posted by Robert Cymbala, 12/04/2010 9:53am (5 years ago)

  • If the democrats are so great, why is California in such a mess?

    Posted by ROB, 11/30/2010 8:27am (5 years ago)

  • So now all of California's problems are solved?

    Posted by ROB, 11/30/2010 8:26am (5 years ago)

  • in addition to all of the above, in oakland, jean quan scored two firsts. first woman mayor of oakland....and that city's first chinese- american mayor. it was a triumph for the system of ranked-choice voting, a version of proportional representation.

    the victory was made possible due to phone-banking and pounding the sidewalk done by many leaders and large memberships of the longshore union[ilwu] and the service employees union[seiu]. this victory came about despite the problem of the alameda county labor council having to remain neutral to acknowledge the many organizational supports of different ccandidates by different unions.

    Posted by gary hicks, 11/29/2010 9:54pm (5 years ago)

  • It was a great victory and this analysis explains it all well. The California election results helped save the Democratic Party's "shellacking" from becoming a total rout!!!

    Posted by Armando Ramirez, 11/26/2010 8:35am (5 years ago)

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