December 2012 Issue
November 20, 2012

Unions score big election wins

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: From left, Syracuse TA President Kevin Ahern; Congressman-elect Dan Maffei; AFT President Randi Weingarten, and Lee Cutler, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, confer at a get out the vote event in Syracuse. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

Led by teachers unions and their progressive allies, voters elected champions of the middle class last month. Simply put, voters saved Main Street and Sesame Street.

"It started at the top with re-electing Barack Obama and it continued down through numerous elections across our state," said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT's executive vice president who oversees the union's legislative and political action effort to get out the vote in New York state, as well as in every state where NYSUT has retirees and members who were willing to volunteer.

Lawmakers learned a lesson, especially in New York state: "We don't forget when you cut education funding and put in place a crippling tax cap and attack workers' rights," Pallotta said. "This election was about respect. And even though labor was outspent by right-wing corporate interests by wide margins in many races, we showed the basic math that one person equals one vote."

NYSUT put forth an extensive ground game with a record amount of participation that included:

  • Thousands of volunteers making contacts with union workers on behalf of endorsed candidates. These contacts ranged from calls at phone banks at NYSUT regional offices across the state, or from personal cell phones and landlines, labor walks to knock on doors and social media including Facebook and the NYSUT Member Action Center;
  • 300,000 direct mailings to members explaining candidate positions in priority races; and
  • Up to $4 million in advertising in those priority races. Those funds came from voluntary contributions from members, not union dues.

The effort got results. It elected pro-education, pro-labor candidates and turned out of office those who worked against the interests of NYSUT members. At the national level, in addition to re-electing President Obama, the union succeeded in re-electing Kirsten Gillibrand as U.S. Senator and a strong delegation to Congress that includes Reps. Tim Bishop, Dan Maffei, Bill Owens and Louise Slaughter and newly elected Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. The decisive victories, and even near misses as in the Kathy Hochul and Nate Shinagawa races, "sent an unmistakable message that the voting public shares our values," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

"We congratulate these progressive candidates who will support and expand the middle class, who will invest in public education and healthcare for all and we look forward to working with them," he said.

The wins came despite being outspent at every level by right-wing groups. For example, spending backed by Republican operative Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, poured $2.7 million into the effort to defeat Slaughter in the 25th C.D. Outside spending was a factor in the race for the 27th Congressional seat held by Kathy Hochul. She lost by just 4,000 votes in a Republican area. It was reported GOP-leaning PACs in support of Republican Chris Collins outspent those Democrat-leaning PACs backing Hochul by 2.5 to 1.