By Kristen Powers
State and local labor unions are a powerful organizing force within any state. Membership can run into the thousands of working individuals concerned about the status of the labor movement and their ability to bargain for better working standards. Union members vote and are more likely to vote for a progressive candidate. When running for office, an endorsement from unions in your district provides a “seal of approval,” encouraging members of the labor union to vote for the endorsed candidate. A labor endorsement conveys a lot about your values and your intentions regarding the issues most effecting working people.
While a union endorsement will not make or break your campaign, unions can provide major support to a candidate’s organization and get-out-the-vote effort. This may include union-produced mailers, press releases, phone banks, door-to-door advocacy and the support of local union members. Depending on the labor union, an endorsement can also include financial contributions.
For an unknown candidate, winning the endorsement of organized labor can also send a signal to other progressive organizations that you are a candidate to be considered. Often in California, environmental, education, health and other policy advocacy organizations join forces with labor to support a candidate’s campaign.
Central Labor Councils, Building Trade Councils and individual local unions all endorse. Learn the traditions of your area. Often individual unions will wait for the Central Labor Councils to make a decision and follow the group endorsement; other times they want to weight in early to influence that decision. In some cases, Building Trades Councils work with the CLC and make a joint endorsement; others follow their own process. Ask and learn. The Political Directors for CLCs will share their process. Many hold candidates’ nights to share policy priorities and tips about their process. During this session, they will describe the questionnaire, interviews and decision-making process for the endorsement.
In some California districts there are multiple counties involved. Many unions also have close ties with the local Democratic Party structure. Find a trusted mentor who has advised candidates in your area and learn the relationships: a pro-labor member on the local Democratic Central Committee, former elected officials from your district, a PAC director from a dominant local union and even a member of the labor council whose endorsement you are seeking – can all provide helpful information and guidance. And they can help you prepare for the questionnaire and interview process.
▶Get your foot in the door
While it is important to build connections with labor advocates for the long run, you do not need an insider to introduce you to any union. When an individual files to run for office, the records are public. Labor unions have a vested interest in finding candidates that will support their issues upon election so they will often take note of the candidates as soon as they have declared.
In California, there is a strong non-partisan tradition in local office. All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will receive information from local labor unions about their endorsement procedures.
▶Learn about what matters
You don’t have to be a labor expert to receive an endorsement. Labor unions, as mentioned, host in-depth briefings and presentations to lay out their policy objectives. The unions will also provide information on what an endorsement means for the union and the candidate. These briefings, along with the help of a local advisor, can guide you through the questionnaire and interview process.
It is important to learn the issues and sift through your own values and thinking.
Know what you believe and why you believe it. Thoughtful answers impress even those who might disagree.
Questionnaires generally stick to major policy areas of concern to union members. For example, “Do you support or oppose the indexing of the minimum wage so that it is adjusted annually to keep pace with the cost of living?” or “Do you support the expansion of majority sign-up rights (“card check”) to apply to more workers, including farmworkers?” (Questions adapted from the California Labor Union 2014 COPE Questionnaire).
In addition to the questionnaire, most unions host interviews to learn more about each candidate. This is a good time to share any personal connections you have to the labor movement. For example, do you have family ties to a specific union? Do you have an appreciation for the role that labor plays in our economy? Do you support critical policies like increasing the minimum wage and enforcement of workplace protections?
Unions care if you have had personal experience with their issues. Have you picketed on behalf of union members? Do you support pro-labor legislation? Have you proposed or voted in support of policies that support the health and welfare of workers? The interview is an opportunity to show why you care about the issues, and why you, as an individual, are the candidate to endorse.
close the gap CA thanks our friends at the San Mateo County Central Labor Council for providing materials and guidance.