Here's What Labor Unions Say They're Doing to Protect the Vote

VICE News reached out to 16 of the most influential labor groups in the U.S. to ask how they've mobilized their members.
November 5, 2020, 5:23pm
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Shortly after election results started to roll in, Donald Trump, as expected, claimed an early victory, ramped up his disinformation efforts to discredit the election process, and yesterday filed shaky lawsuits in three states aimed at suppressing votes, while his supporters couldn’t decide if they wanted votes to be counted or not. 

Workers across the country were ready. “Count the vote” protests and demonstrations, which began yesterday in cities like Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and more, continue today. 

Organized in large part by labor unions and grassroots groups, these demonstrations called for every vote to be counted. Many of them also demanded action on issues like climate change and policing, which will not be solved or even meaningfully addressed simply by substituting one president for another.

VICE News reached out to the 16 of the most influential unions and governing bodies in the U.S. to ask how they communicated with members about the election; if and how they called for members to be ready to take to the streets or engage in any other collective action in the event Trump would claim a wrongful victory; if they’ve mobilized members in any other way; and how they conceive of labor's role in protecting democracy. It’s worth noting that many of these unions have robust local branches that operate largely on their own. The responses are below. 

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

Who they are: “We are the democratic, voluntary federation of 56 national and international labor unions that represent 12.5 million working men and women.”

What they said: Did not respond to VICE News; released a statement from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka yesterday, that read, in part: “In the days to come, America’s labor movement will defend our democratic republic and ensure our next president will be the person who is the choice of the citizens of the United States. Simply put, voters must decide—not courts, not legislators and certainly not one of the candidates.”

UNITE HERE

Who they are: “UNITE HERE is a labor union that represents 300,000 working people across Canada and the United States. Our members work in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries.”

What they said: 

How has UNITE HERE communicated about the election and various scenarios with members? Has UNITE HERE mobilized members in any other way? 
We knew that the stakes in this election were higher than ever election season, and for this reason UNITE HERE got out on the doors first and stayed out longest. We organized the largest union door-to-door canvassing operation in the country, in which over 1,500 UNITE HERE canvassers—many of them Black and Latino workers whose jobs and families were hit hard by COVID-19—knocked on the doors of over 2.8 million Americans to encourage them to vote. Thanks in no small part to their hard work in the battleground states of Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, unprecedented numbers of Americans voted early, cast ballots by mail, and voted at the polls in Tuesday’s election.

That this election is a fight comes as no great surprise to UNITE HERE members, who are used to fighting for what they deserve—from a fair union contract to a president who represents the true values of the American people. We knew from the beginning that this election was never about a single day which is why, from the beginning, UNITE HERE members put in the work—from door-to-door canvassing to phone banking—to deliver this year’s record voter turnout. We’re confident that we are winning the fight to take back our country, and now we must ensure that every vote counts.

Has UNITE HERE called for members to be ready to take to the streets or engage in any other collective action in the event Trump tries to claim a wrongful victory? 
We’re confident that we are winning the fight to take back our country. UNITE HERE locals are already mobilizing to celebrate what they’ve fought for and call to ensure that every vote is counted. We also plan to take part in major mobilizations that are being planned across the country on November 7.

How does UNITE HERE conceive of labor's role in protecting democracy? 
The best way to protect democracy is to ensure that people vote, and UNITE HERE is proud of the  role we played in helping turn out voters in record numbers to Take Back Our Country, in spite of the toll that COVID-19 took on our union and on our industries. Those votes are a mandate for change to help everyday working people by providing economic relief for workers left jobless by the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing structural change to bring about greater racial equity and justice, and developing aggressive strategies for tackling the imminent danger posed by climate change. 

We are proud to be working together with the AFL-CIO and a broad coalition of other unions to ensure that labor has a seat at the table, and that working people have a voice in shaping and taking back our country.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Who they are: “The American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, was founded in 1916 and today represents 1.7 million members in more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide.”

What they said: "Like every other modern presidential election, states are continuing to count the votes to ascertain the next president. Counting requires patience and persistence—and this year, in the midst of a pandemic and Donald Trump’s baseless attempts to sow doubt, even more so,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a statement to VICE News. “Trump doesn’t decide the results, the people do, despite his flailing efforts to defy the popular will after an election in which Joe Biden won more votes than any nominee in history. 

"Democracy demands we count every vote, and that election officials are able to do their jobs. While we are confident Joe Biden will win this election, we will do all we can over coming days to thwart Donald Trump's panicked attempts to preserve his power—and we will celebrate that the voice of the people was heard loud and clear."

An AFT spokesperson also directed VICE News to AFT’s resolution, “Protecting American Democracy,” which read, in part: “In the tradition of our teachers, Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Philip Randolph, we will organize and participate in peaceful, nonviolent mass protests against any efforts to thwart free and fair elections and to undermine American democracy. When democracy is in danger, we will be in the streets and in our workplaces with our colleagues in the labor movement and allies in the community, defending it against its enemies—foreign and domestic.”

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

Who they are: “The IBEW represents approximately 775,000 active members and retirees who work in a wide variety of fields, including utilities, construction, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing, railroads and government.”

What they said: Did not respond to VICE News, posted no statement about the election on their website.

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) 

Who they are: “UAW-represented workplaces range from multinational corporations, small manufacturers and state and local governments to colleges and universities, hospitals and private non-profit organizations. The UAW has more than 400,000 active members and more than 580,000 retired members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.”

What they said: “Votes are still being counted and we believe all votes should and will be counted,” spokesman Brian Rothenberg said in a statement to VICE News. 

United Steel Workers (USW)

Who they are: “We are the United Steelworkers, North America’s largest industrial union. We’re 1.2 million members and retirees strong in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. We proudly represent men and women who work in nearly every industry there is. Our members are leaders in your communities, in your work places, in our governments and more.”

What they said: A spokeswoman directed VICE News to vice-president Fred Redmond, who did not respond. USW posted no statement about the election on its website.

Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)

Who they are: “The Laborers’ International Union of North America is a powerhouse of workers who are proud to build the United States and Canada. A half-million strong, we are united through collective bargaining agreements which help us earn family-supporting pay, good benefits and the opportunity for advancement and better lives.”

What they said: Did not respond to VICE News; wrote on Twitter yesterday that “with several states still counting, this is a moment to exercise patience with the process and trust in our system. The votes WILL be counted and the voters WILL decide.”

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Who they are: “We are the Service Employees International Union, an organization of 2-million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.”

What they said: A spokeswoman directed VICE News to a statement from SEIU president Mary Kay Henry from yesterday, which read, in part: “Americans’ faith in our political system requires that we fulfill the promise that all votes are counted. President Trump wants to pick and choose how our votes will be counted. He hopes that he can bully and cheat his way to victory. But we won’t let him. We are fighting back, together, to defend our democracy. We’ll be in the streets, organizing our communities and marching together to count every vote and ensure that our democracy works for all of us, no exceptions.”

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Who they are: The Teamsters are America’s largest, most diverse union. In 1903, the Teamsters started as a merger of the two leading team driver associations. These drivers were the backbone of America’s robust economic growth, but they needed to organize to wrest their fair share from greedy corporations. Today, the Union’s task is exactly the same.

What they said: A spokesman recommended VICE News reach out to the AFL-CIO; did not post any statement on its website. 

National Education Association (NEA)

Who they are: “NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States. We bring the expertise, drive, and dedication of 3 million educators and allies to advancing justice and excellence in public education.”

What they said: Did not respond to VICE News; released a “count every vote” pledge on Oct. 31, that read, in part: “At this extraordinary time, as Americans risk so much to head out to the ballot box, we must work together to demand that every vote be counted, the voice of the people be respected, and we must stand together to protect each other, our families and our communities.”

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

Who they are: “AFSCME is nurses. Corrections officers. Child care providers. EMTs. Sanitation workers. School bus drivers. Civil engineers. More than a million people doing hundreds of different jobs, all with one thing in common: a dedication to making our communities stronger, healthier, and safer.” 

What they said: A spokesman directed VICE News to a statement from AFSCME president Lee Saunders, which read, in part:  “AFSCME is deeply involved in the efforts to protect the vote in the days to come. I am confident that when this count is conducted in a fair and equitable manner, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will come out on top.”

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE)

Who they are: “Our members work in all forms of live theater, motion picture and television production, trade shows and exhibitions, television broadcasting, and concerts as well as the equipment and construction shops that support all these areas of the entertainment industry. We represent virtually all the behind-the-scenes workers in crafts ranging from motion picture animator to theater usher.”

What they said: Did not respond to VICE News; did not post a statement about the election on its website.

American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

Who they are: “The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union proudly representing 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers nationwide and overseas. Workers in virtually all functions of government at every federal agency depend upon AFGE for legal representation, legislative advocacy, technical expertise and informational services.”

What they said: Did not respond to VICE News; did not a post a statement about the election on its website.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW)

Who they are: “The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is a labor union made up of 1.3 million hard-working men and women in the U.S. and Canada. We are a 501(c)(5) nonprofit organization that believes in the power of ordinary people coming together to improve their lives and make a lasting difference for all working people.”

What they said: “UFCW members have been on the frontlines of COVID-19 in grocery stores and meatpacking plants, and UFCW members have been on the frontlines of the 2020 election helping to get out the vote and make their voices heard,” UFCW president Marc Perrone said in a statement to VICE News. “Our union’s frontline workers have been putting their health at risk every day of this pandemic and taking control of COVID-19 and protecting healthcare were top issues for our members in this election. 

“With more than 120,000 UFCW members in battleground states across the country, frontline workers represented by our union made their voices heard on Election Day and will continue to play a key role as states continue to count ballots. For the sake of the country, we must get this right. Every vote must be counted and UFCW members are standing with unions across the country in the fight to keep democracy alive in America.”

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)

Who they are: The United Mine Workers of America is a diverse union with membership that includes coal miners, manufacturing workers, clean coal technicians, health care workers, corrections officers and public employees throughout the United States and Canada.

What they said: Did not respond to VICE News. In a video statement posted yesterday, UMWA president Cecil Roberts said every vote must be counted. “We live in a democracy. We don’t live in Russia where they might get away with something like that. We don’t live in China. We don’t live in some third world country. We don’t live in North Korea. In America, people make decisions about our government.”

International Association Of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)

Who they are: “With nearly 600,000 active and retired members, the IAM is one of the largest and most diverse labor unions in North America. From Boeing and Lockheed Martin to United Airlines and Harley-Davidson, you will find IAM members across all walks of life. IAM members demand respect and dignity in the workplace. Together, we have been able to bargain for increased job security, higher wages and improved benefits.”

What they said: A spokesperson directed VICE News to a statement about the election from Machinists Union International president Robert Martinez Jr., which he said the union has been echoing on Facebook and Twitter. The statement read, in part: Now, we must all ensure that each and every voice is heard. Machinists Union members and Americans from coast to coast have overcome a pandemic and other unacceptable barriers to vote in historic numbers. We owe it to each other to count every ballot.”