Joe Maniscalco

Labor unions take credit for Biden vote counts in key states

Calling them the "saviors of democracy," labor groups representing essential frontline workers in key battleground states say their members have put Joe Biden on track to win the White House—and that they're now prepared to beat back Trump administration efforts to steal the 2020 presidential election from the Democratic Party nominee.

On Wednesday, the day after the election, leaders from SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania—part of the nationwide Service Employees International Union, the state group represents 45,000 caregivers—joined with Black Voters Matter, Our Future PA and other pro-labor, progressive organizations on the Harrisburg Capitol steps for a "Count Every Vote" rally. They plan to reassemble as outstanding ballots in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina continue to be tabulated.

As of early Friday morning, Biden had taken a narrow lead in Georgia and was on the path to pass Trump in Pennsylvania.

'We know that we made a significant difference in Pennsylvania in this election.'

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale and Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder were there, too. (The AFL-CIO—the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations—is the largest federation of unions in the U.S.)

"The president decided he was winning in the fifth inning and called it a game—but we know we won yesterday," Bloomingdale told attendees.

Snyder invoked a football analogy, saying that Trump is defeated and that whatever "safety, fumble or interception" that may yet occur—the "game is over."

Representing Essential Workers

"Ignore the noise that's coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and keep your poise," Snyder said.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania President Matthew Yarnell later told DCReport that Trump's efforts to stop the count in his state and the "dangerous rhetoric spewing from the White House podium" is a direct effort to disenfranchise essential workers—many of them people of color.

"These are folks who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic and many of them have voted by mail because they have to," Yarnell said. "They're working 12-hour shifts, they can't get to the polls on election day."

These workers, Yarnell says, have been out there "through thick and thin, day and night supporting our country as we've gone through this pandemic."

"Pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, folks who really make our country work—they deserve to have their voices heard and their ballots counted," he said.

Beating Clinton's Performance

Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania by just over 44,000 votes. This time around, Unite Here—the national hospitality workers' union—believes it has done the "critical work" needed in Black and Brown communities throughout the state to best Donald Trump.

"We knocked on the doors of 575,000 voters across Philadelphia's Black and Brown neighborhoods that had low turnout in 2016," Unite Here Local 274 President Rosslyn Wuchinich told reporters during a Thursday press conference. "In those neighborhoods, we identified 60,000 Philadelphia voters who pledged to us to in person in contactless conversations to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris."

According to Wuchinich, half of those voters had not voted in 2016.

"We know that we made a significant difference in Pennsylvania in this election," she said.

Black and Latino workers laid-off from jobs with the Philadelphia Public School System constitute the majority of Unite Here Local 634's membership.

Black and Brown Voters

"The members I work with are primarily Black leaders in the Philadelphia school district who need to see a change in this country," Local 634 President Nicole Hunt told reporters. "They've been dealing with racial injustice, joblessness and folks who have just lost hope in this system. In 2016, these people did not vote that we targeted—and we were able to give them their voice back and let them know that they matter."

Unite Here succeeded in knocking on nearly 3 million doors on behalf of the Biden/Harris ticket in the months leading up to the Nov, election.

Unite Here Local 11 represents more than 30,000 hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona. Union canvassers ranging in age from 15 to 72, started knocking on doors for the Biden/Harris on blistering hot days back in July. When it was over, the union had reportedly put as many as 500 people in the field and interacted with more than 250,000 voters.

"We formed our team from some of the most devastated people, Local 11 Co-President Susan Minato told reporters during the virtual press conference. "These were laid-off hospitality workers who really did not know—and still do not know—if they will go back to a job."

Unite Here Secretary-Treasurer Gwen Mills told reporters:"We believe the saviors of democracy are working people."

Numerous labor leaders around the country have already stated that Trump would spark a general strike if he tries to subvert the will of the electorate. According to Yarnell "everything is on the table."

Fighting Trump's Efforts

"As I watch the results roll in, it's looking more like we're going to have a pretty decisive win for Vice-President Biden," he said. "If Trump continues to try to use tactics to try and intimidate… or use the legal system to try and take away the election from people that were duly won it—we're gonna fight tooth and nail to prevent that."

Unite Here President Donald "D." Taylor calls trade unionists the "difference makers" in the 2020 Presidential Election—and with that much political capital, organized labor should finally have enough political leverage to extract concrete demands from a Democratic Party that has long taken them for granted and failed to deliver for the working people they represent.

"We have to hold [Biden] accountable," Philadelphia's Nicole Hunt told me. "We want to see action taken."

For Unite Here, at least, that kind of immediate action would include relief for hard-pressed working people in crisis; raising the minimum wage, enacting rules that make it easier for working men and women to join a union; comprehensive immigration reform and a green economy.

Taylor expects Joe Biden will be the most "pro-union president" in his lifetime—but still says Labor must still continue to organize and push him to deliver for the workers.

It's unknown, however, how much of the union's agenda can be implemented as Sen. Mitch McConnell and Republicans look likely to retain control of the Senate.

"What we've done is assemble the car," Taylor said. "We're not just going to hand over the keys and say, OK, you drive it."

New York City firebrand Mike Hellstrom, secretary-treasurer of Laborers Local 108, says that the American labor movement knows very well what the integrity of the vote is all about.

"It's how our unions are formed," he told me. "Voting and having your ballot counted is the chief hallmark of our democracy. Organized labor has an obligation in ensuring that this integrity is held up in any election—especially that of the president of our country—including making our voices heard by demanding that all legal votes be counted, and holding those in power accountable to what our democracy stands for."

EPA chief issues 'straight up racist' order for workers to return to offices

Hundreds of telecommuting employees at the Environmental Protection Agency are in open revolt. Agency head Andrew R. Wheeler this week drew their ire for what they say is a deadly and racist order to return to federal buildings despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

They refused Monday to be bullied back into a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19 just to buttress the president's foolish behavior. And they noted that such dangerous directives appear aimed only at the EPA, an agency whose mission Trump loathes.

On Monday, as Trump made a dramatic show of returning to the White House and posing for propaganda films, the union representing many EPA employees declared its support for science and listening to doctors.

We have a president who doesn't care if you live or die. Even our mid-level management is with us on this.

American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 238 held a no-confidence vote on EPA Administrator Wheeler, an action one step short of a strike, which federal law prohibits.

The Council 238 members voted 695 to 56 against Wheeler. That's an overwhelming 93% expressing no confidence.

Inhuman, Lethal Order

Those voting included scientists, public health professionals and other people with enough education and sound judgment to recognize that Wheeler's order to work in an unsafe environment is worse than foolhardy, it's inhumane and potentially lethal.

Union leaders said that midlevel managers who by law cannot be in a union share their views that the Wheeler directive is not just unwise, it's likely to result in the deaths of some EPA employees or their loved ones.

Trump originally tapped Wheeler — a former coal industry lobbyist and climate change denier — for EPA leadership back in 2017, before ultimately succeeding in installing him as permanent administrator in February 2019.

During an online union hall meeting Monday night to announce the no-confidence vote resultsunion leaders reminded members of their lack of protections from deadly workplace conditions.

Loreen Targos of Local 704 noted that federal employees cannot legally strike, then added that federal employees "have a right to fight for our lives."

Union Says Don't Return

Gary Morton, president of AFGE Council 238, emphasized telecommuting's effectiveness against COVID-19's spread. He told the council's 9,000 members that they should not return to their EPA offices until a safe and effective vaccine against the virus is developed, they get it and it is widely available.

The unionists have been working remotely since March 15 without issue, the union says.

But forcing them back into office spaces where mask-wearing would not be enforced and measures to ensure social distancing in hallways and elevators have not been taken is a threat to workers' lives.

Just one infected worker who models Trump's mask-less behavior could make a whole building sick. COVID-19 is expected to cause lifelong health problems in some of those affected. Infected workers can spread the disease to their family members, some of whom may be vulnerable due to age, pre-existing conditions and other factors not yet fully understood

Administration Hypocrisy

Joyce Howell, a Local 3631 leader who has negotiated with management, called hypocrisy on the Trump administration.

"They [administrators] always say your health and safety is our priority — [but] if you spend 15 minutes at the bargaining table, you know that that's not true," Howell said. "I have no confidence employee health and safety are being considered during the reopening."

Wheeler's drive to pack bodies into traditional, and confined, office spaces where tiny droplets of moisture laced with the virus can spread disease is especially suspect to other union leaders. No other federal agency is being subjected to similar "phase three" return to federal buildings, they said.

"Seems like they are lining us up to push us over the cliff into phase three," President Bethany Dreyfus of Local 1236 said. "This whole time they were using us to make a political point."

AFGE Local 704's Felicia Chase further insists that Wheeler's plan to force employees back into traditional office spaces fails to consider COVID-19's disproportionate impact on black and brown people. Chase called Wheeler's directive "straight-up racist."

Compliance Next Week

The requirement for workers to return to their offices could come as early as Thursday evening with compliance expected Tuesday, Oct. 13, according to AFGE Council 238 members.

Eddie Guster, the council's sergeant-at-arms, said Trump's continuing dismissal of the deadly effects of COVID-19 and his returning to the White House while infectious is both "infuriating" and reckless.

Because of the disease, "some of my friends lost parents," Guster said. "We have a president who doesn't care if you live or die. Even our mid-level management is with us on this."

Targos remains defiant while reminding rank and file EPA employees that solidarity has enabled them to confound Wheeler and Trump for this long.

"They have no idea what we're capable of," in resisting the dangerous order Targos said. "They haven't seen nothing, so far."

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