By Sheri Williams
In the White House, in key states including Georgia, and in California races, unions played a pivotal role in winning during the recent elections—including Sacramento union members who worked on campaigns across the country.
“Our Sacramento union family worked hard not just for our local races, but to make sure we took back power on the federal level,” said Sacramento Central Labor Council executive director Fabrizio Sasso. “Whether it was phone banking or traveling to other states to knock on doors, our members went all in to make sure we took back the presidency, and the Senate.”
Sasso said the SCLC contributed more volunteers to the Georgia effort than almost any other Labor Council or state Labor Federation in the country.
With the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president, California unions also reap the benefits of union supporters filling new roles. Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a longtime ally of working people, was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the Senate seat vacated by Harris.
“The son of Mexican immigrants—a cook and house cleaner—Alex Padilla worked his way from humble beginnings to the halls of MIT, the Los Angeles City Council and the State Senate, and has become a national defender of voting rights as California’s Secretary of State. Now, he will serve in the halls of our nation’s Capitol as California’s next United States Senator, the first Latino to hold this office,” said Newsom. “Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic. He will be a Senator for all Californians.”
Secretary of State Padilla was sworn in as California’s first Latino Secretary of State on January 5, 2015 and pledged to bring more Californians into the democratic process as the state’s top elections official. With President Trump attacking immigrants and democracy over the past four years, Newsom said in a statement, Padilla has been a warrior for voting rights and the American Dream. He was re-elected in 2018 and received the most votes of any Latino elected official in the United States.
Newsom also appointed Assemblymember Shirley Weber as the new Secretary of State. Weber, also a champion of working people, has been a key force in police reforms in California.
But those appointments would not have been possible without the energy and commitment of union members to win the November election and the Georgia runoffs.
The Sacramento Central Labor Council ran phone banks for months prior to the November elections, including for the recent Georgia runoffs that gave Democrats two key Congressional victories.
One of the biggest union efforts was staged by Unite Here, including its Sacramento chapter.
COVID-19 had a devastating impact on Unite Here members—with 98% laid off during the Spring 2020 peak of the pandemic and a slow recovery anticipated for the hospitality industry, the union said in a statement. During the 2020 presidential election Unite Here ran the largest union door-to-door canvassing operation in the United States.
“It’s taken decades of organizing, marching, and striking to win the good pay, benefits, and dignity on the job we’ve earned for ourselves and our families,” union leaders said in a statement. “We boldly took back what’s ours by winning two Senate seats in Georgia in the heart of the South—just as we took back the Presidency through our hard work in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida.”
Over 1,000 of Unite Here union housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers and airport concessions workers—who are mostly women and people of color—canvassed full-time in the Atlanta metro area and Columbus. Unite Here knocked on over 1.5 million doors as part of a larger 9 million-knock statewide effort to get out the vote for Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Each day, union members had 15,000 face-to-face conversations with Georgians about the runoff race.
A relic of Jim Crow-era policies aimed at diluting the influence of Black voters, Georgia’s runoff elections have historically favored Republicans, the union said. Democrats have struggled in previous Georgia runoffs to maintain participation among Black voters and other voters of color critical to their success. Members of Unite Here supercharged a program to reach those voters directly by mounting the largest door-to-door canvassing operation in its history, becoming a central figure in the multi-racial statewide effort that delivered the win for Democrats by hitting nine million doors altogether.
In conversations with voters, Unite Here canvassers stressed the urgent need to take back the Senate. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers across Georgia have dealt with unprecedented job losses, a government response that has been “too little, too late,” and loss of employer-provided healthcare.
“This victory means everything to me. It means the long hours and late nights of door knocking paid off. After being laid-off I put my mortgage on hold not knowing when I would be able to get back on my feet and provide for my family, but this victory gives me hope that change is coming,” said Joyce Roberts, a Unite Here canvasser who was laid off from her job as a banquet server.
This effort on the ground in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida knocked on the doors of over three million voters, helped drive the unprecedented turnout of the 2020 presidential election, and made a critical difference for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
“This is a win for working people — delivered by working people, who did the hard work day after day at the doors talking to voters directly. Unite Here spoke with 15,000 Georgian voters every single day to overcome the core challenge of this runoff: maintaining enthusiasm among the Democratic base and revving up voter turnout,” said Unite Here Secretary-Treasurer Gwen Mills. “Democrats have an opportunity to learn from this win to understand the power of organizing and the value of investing in the ground game so we can take back parts of the country long ceded to Republicans. We are taking it back one conversation at a time. Our members in Georgia and the people we spoke with at the doors are desperate for immediate COVID relief and so much more, and I’m proud Unite Here could be part of making progress possible.”