With so much big money flooding our political process, it’s easy to feel disillusioned and overwhelmed by the seemingly endless barrage of election-related TV commercials, glossy mailers and invasive web ads. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s the fact than even in this highly saturated and expensive media environment, you can’t put a price on the kind of personal human interaction that is at the very core of the union movement. That’s why IBEW 1245 doubled down on its commitment to grassroots political organizing during the 2016 election cycle.
In the fall of 2016, more than 100 Local 1245 activists, retirees and staff joined the effort to combat the big spending with a whole lot of “people power.” Our members were out in force all across the union’s territory, knocking on doors, making phone calls, joining rallies, hosting meetings at worksites and recruiting volunteers to support the union-endorsed candidates and ballot measures that will have the biggest impact on our members. Altogether, our members contacted tens of thousands of voters across our jurisdiction, and that hard work truly paid off, as the majority of our union-endorsed candidates and ballot measures came out ahead on Election Night.
When casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and a few other big-business billionaires placed Question 3 on the Nevada ballot, Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell was quick to sound the alarm. This deceptively worded statewide ballot measure sought to deregulate electric utility system in Nevada, opening the door to sky-rocketing power bills for residents, as well as major job losses for Local 1245 members.
Defeating Question 3 was a top priority for Local 1245, and together with our union allies, we helped spearhead one of the most robust Get Out the Vote operations in the nation. Retiree Rita Wiesshaar took the helm, coordinating a massive volunteer-driven ground campaign to support both No on 3 as well as Catherine Cortez Masto for United States Senate.
“We had lots of union members come from California to walk precincts with us on the weekends. Our walk on October 22 had over 300 volunteers,” said Weisshaar. “It was so exciting to see our 1245 members from California, and everyone else who came to help us!”
The voluntereer effort to send Cortez Masto to Washington was victorious, and she will soon become the first Latina to serve in the US Senate. Our work also helped secure democratic majorities in the State Assembly and Senate. And although our campaign to defeat Question 3 was not successful, that fight is far from over. The law in the state of Nevada requires that the constitutional changes proposed in Question 3 be passed by voters in two consecutive elections, so we will have another chance to take this measure down when it comes up again in 2018.
United States Senate: When California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that she planned to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer, IBEW Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell was among the first to reach out to her and offer an endorsement for her candidacy. With help from our members who volunteered turn out the vote for her, Harris handily defeated her opponent by nearly two million votes!
Statewide Ballot Measures: Of the 17 different ballot measures that appeared on the General Election ballot, unions were most heavily focused on just a few:
- Yes on Prop 51 (which would fund construction projects to repair and upgrade California’s schools and community colleges): Prop 51 won by eight points.
- Yes on Prop 55 (which would extend the school and health care funding that voters originally passed with Prop 30 in 2012): Prop 55 was approved by nearly 25 points.
- No on Prop 53 (which would harm the ability of state and local governments to build infrastructure projects and respond to emergency situations such as the drought, an earthquake or other natural disasters): At press time, Prop 53 remains too close to call, but it is trailing and appear voters will narrowly defeat it.
This year’s election in the Sacramento area perfectly exemplified the impact that local politics can have on 1245 members. Between Measure B (a critical local transit funding measure of particular importance to our members who work at Sacramento Regional Transit), the Roseville City Council election (where Local 1245 represents members), and the race for SMUD Board (where Local 1245 also represents workers), our Sacramento team had their work cut out for them on campaigns that could dramatically affect the working lives of 1245 members.
Under the tutelage of seasoned Organizing Steward Nilda Garcia, Local 1245 touted some big successes in the Sacramento area. Garcia and her fellow Organizing Stewards recruited a team of volunteers from PG&E, SRT, SMUD and other 1245 properties, many of whom had never been involved in politics prior to this year.
“I really enjoyed working with so many new people who had never done campaign work before,” said Garcia. “It was a great experience, developing future Organizing Stewards who weren’t afraid to say, ‘Count me in for the next campaign!’”
Their hard work clearly paid off. Brandon Rose, the union-endorsed candidate for SMUD board in Ward 1, defeated his opponent by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Scott Alvord, 1245’s choice for Roseville City Council, also prevailed in his race. At press time, the ballots for Measure B were still being counted. It appears that the measure will fall just short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, but the measure out-performed expectations thanks to the support it received from the 1245 team.
The name “Dolores Huerta” is practically synonymous with the notion of “union power.” Famous for her role in the birth of the Farmworkers Movement, Huerta has been an unwavering voice for workers’ rights for the better part of a century. When her son, Emilio Huerta, announced that he was running for Congress in District 21, IBEW 1245 was quick to endorse his candidacy and recruit volunteers to support his campaign. Team Fresno also lent their support to a number of other local ballot measures and candidates, including Fresno Mayoral candidate Henry Perea, and 1245 members were even featured in a video that Perea’s campaign put out.
1245 assembled a powerhouse team of door-knockers and phone-bankers, led by Organizing Stewards Laquania “Q” Davis and Ashley Nelson, who worked day in and day out to reach as many voters as possible in this rural district, even knocking doors with Dolores Huerta herself.
“We had historic voter turnout in our area,” according to Organizing Steward Ashley Nelson. “In some precincts, it was 60% higher than it’s been in previous years.”
Despite the increased turnout, both Huerta and Perea were defeated, but our team is still proud of the work they did to support these pro-union candidates in a notoriously anti-union area.
During the 2014 election cycle, Local 1245 members who work at the City of Lompoc campaigned aggressively to elect Bob Lingl as the city’s Mayor. As Mayor, Lingl has proven time and again that he’s a staunch advocate for the City workers. When Lingl announced he would seek re-election, Local 1245 Business Rep Jaime Tinoco once again rallied the troops to keep Lingl in office. They volunteered their time on nights and weekends, held two campaign rallies, went door-to-door, and even paraded around town in the “Lingl-mobile.” Thanks in part to their work, Lingl sailed to re-election, defeating his opponent by more than 15 points.
The union also backed two City Council candidates, Janelle Osborne and DeWayne Holmdahl, based on their support for Lompoc’s working families. Osborne won, but Holmdahl was narrowly defeated.
San Francisco County Supervisor Jane Kim is well-known as the author of San Francisco’s ground-breaking $15-per-hour minimum wage ballot measure, which passed in 2014. When she announced her plans to run for State Senate, Local 1245 joined with a broad coalition of other unions to support her campaign. Organizing Steward Arnaldo Lizzaraga trekked up and down the hilly San Francisco terrain, knocking on doors and single-handedly delivering hundreds of yard signs. Despite this hard work and dedication to the campaign, Kim fell just a few points short of defeating her opponent.
Local 1245 also provided support for Hillary Ronen, who sought to replace David Campos as the County Supervisor in District 9. Ronen is another life-long advocate for workers in San Francisco, where she worked for many years to combat wage theft and exploitation. Ronen cruised easily to victory, capturing 57% of the vote in a three-way race.
Across the Bay, Cheryl Cook-Kallio ran a tough campaign to oust incumbent Catherine Baker in Assembly District 16. Organizing Steward Kristen Rasmussen helped to spearhead the effort in support of Cook-Kallio, working closely with her campaign to turn out voters.
“The most exciting part of the campaign was when Cheryl got the endorsement of President Obama,” Rasmussen said. “He only endorsed a few candidates in California, and the fact that she was one of them was a really big deal.”
Despite the hard work and the presidential endorsement, Cook-Kallio was unable to defeat the incumbent, but she expressed much gratitude to the team from Local 1245 for supporting her through the election.
Additionally, Local 1245 Advisory Council member Michael Patterson committed his time and effort to promote some local ballot measures in Alameda County. He worked with the local Labor Council to support Measure C1 (which benefits our members at AC Transit) and Measure KK (an infrastructure bond that would benefit our members and residents in the City of Oakland). Both measures passed with overwhelming support.
“The highlight of this campaign for me was when the Alameda Central Labor Council asked me to go talk to the students at the Cypress Mandela Training Center,” said Patterson. “I got to tell them all about the benefits of being in a union, and I also talked to them about the importance of getting involved in politics. The following Wednesday, 22 of those kids showed up to phone bank at the Labor Council!”
Those phone bankers undoubtedly made a difference in the City of Alameda, where Local 1245 represents utility workers. Local 1245’s endorsed candidates for Alameda City Council — union member Malia Vella and incumbent Marilyn ‘Ezzy’ Ashcraft – were both elected, putting us on track to reestablish a union-friendly majority on the Council.
When IBEW-endorsed candidates Vernon Williams III (who ran for Vallejo City Council) and Landis Graden (who ran for Vallejo Mayor) came by to visit with the Local 1245 members who work for the City of Vallejo, the members were overcome with excitement. “This was the first time that any of the IBEW members at the City of Vallejo could recall a candidate for office taking the time to meet with them,” according to Local 1245 Organizing Steward Steven Marcotte, who is leading the charge in Vallejo. “Now that is empowering!”
Seeing the candidates in person prompted several members to sign up and volunteer to work on the campaign. The team made an impressive 27,000 phone calls out of the local labor council. Unfortunately, Williams and Graden were unable to garner enough voted in these competitive races, but Local 1245’s other endorsed candidate for City Council, Rozzanna Verder-Aliga, did succeed in her election bid. Additionally, union-endorsed State Senate candidate Bill Dodd succeeded in besting his opponent in District 3, thanks to support from Local 1245 and other unions, and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry won the race in Assembly District 4. As Mayor of Winters, Aguiar-Curry worked very closely with PG&E to plan and construct the Gas Training Center, and we’re confident that she will continue to be an ally in Sacramento.
Organizing Stewards Rachel Ramirez Hill and Julie Gonzalez teamed up to spearhead Local 1245’s Get Out the Vote effort in the North Valley. Despite technical challenges, inclement weather and a slew of loose dogs, the North Valley team worked every day to drive support for labor-endorsed candidates, including Heath Flora, a labor-friendly Republican running for office in Assembly District 12. They also volunteered for Michael Eggman, who ran for Congress in District 10. Both races were extremely close, and the candidates were exceptionally grateful for the effort that the Local 1245 team put in, stopping by on more than one occasion to express their gratitude.
Flora succeeded in edging out his opponent, but Eggman was unable to garner the votes needed to oust the incumbent in his district. Additionally, union-backed candidate Robert Rickman won his bid for Mayor of Tracy, thanks to a wealth of support from Local 1245 early in the race.
“We as organizers were able to increase participation amongst fellow union members and regular citizens that had political interest,” said Organizing Steward Julie Gonzalez. “Unions create one loud effective voice — and because of our strength in numbers, we were heard!”
As a member of the State Legislature, Noreen Evans was a committed advocate for working families, and that track record earned her 1245’s endorsement for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The union also back two candidates in the City of Healdsburg (where we represent workers) — Tim Meinken and Shaun McCaffery.
Organizing Steward Rodrigo Flores travelled up to Sonoma, where he worked long, tiring hours without complaint, even returning to the Labor Council to make phone calls after a full day of canvassing the Sonoma hills. Turning out voters is no easy feat in this district, and Evans was narrowly defeated by her opponent. In Healdsburg, first-time candidate Meinken fell just a few votes short of victory, but McCaffery, who was an incumbent, was successfully re-elected.
“I feel really proud about the work we did here in California. Yes, some of our candidates did not win, but … I still feel motivated to do this again and for many years to come,” said Flores. “I like educating people and asking them to support candidates that will make a genuine effort to protect our jobs and way of life and thinking in California.”
Rene Cruz-Martinez, Shannon Akhbari, Brittney Sandana and Candice Brace travelled to Arizona to support the successful effort to oust Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who became infamous for his promotion of racial profiling in the state. Martinez was quoted in an NPR news story about the campaign, and he was also featured on the AFL-CIO website.
Kevin Krummes, Mike Grimm, Samson Wilson and Anthony Seemster hit the ground running in Ohio, where they partnered with other unions to work on the presidential election. Grimm, Krummes and Wilson enjoyed a quick 15 seconds of fame when they appeared on the local news with AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka.
Miguel Pagan, Mark Goodwin, Tracey Amaro and Mary Corrente went out to the battleground state of Pennsylvania, where they connected with more than a thousand voters on the issues and candidates that matter most to working families.