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You Can't Fool Us; We're Stickin' with Our Union

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The radical right thought they could fool California’s voters. But Labor out-organized Prop 226 supporters’ plan to silence working families — and built a new volunteer base.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

It was Monday, June 1, and the fortune cookie’s message summed up the whole campaign: Vote June 2. No on 226.

The cookies were handed to AFSCME members at their worksites the day before California’s primary — part of the get-out-the-vote effort. It put the finishing touches on a six-month campaign against Proposition 226, a right-wing-sponsored ballot initiative to silence working families.

California was the most visible test case for the radical right’s latest anti-Labor attack. They call it Paycheck Protection; those who are fighting for working families say it’s Paycheck Deception. If Labor was defeated in California, dozens of states could follow.

The union-led campaign galvanized hundreds of union and community activists who understood how dangerous it would be to take unions out of the political/legislative arena.

MIRACLE TURNAROUND. “We came out of nowhere. We did it, all of us,” says Local 901 (Council 36) Exec. Board Member Sonia Riveros.

The deceptively titled Paycheck Protection initiative gained a lot of early publicity and won the support of 70 percent of union members, according to a February poll by Peter Hart Research Associates. The blood, sweat and sore feet of Labor’s volunteers turned those numbers around. After learning how destructive Prop 226 would be for working families, 71 percent of union members opposed it.

At a June 3 press conference and celebration, AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee pointed to the “unprecedented mobilization that brought about this victory.” He noted that “24,000 new political activists were identified for future political action in the state, and they honed their skills in this election by participating in phone banks, precinct walks or worksite visits.”

THE GREEN MACHINE. Many of those 24,000 were AFSCME members working out of Council 57 in Oakland, Council 36 and Local 1902 in Los Angeles, United Domestic Workers in San Diego and United Nurses Associations of California offices in Los Angeles and San Diego.

The campaign was carefully planned. Union members each received up to four phone calls educating them about the issue, encouraging them to join in the union’s activities and reminding them to vote. AFSCME California affiliates also mailed their members informational materials to share with their families and co-workers.

AFSCME members held workplace discussions and hit the bricks on the weekends before the election — going door to door visiting union members and asking for their support. Gold and fuschia “Vote No Prop 226” signs sprang up all over like wildflowers.

TON OF BRICKS. “It was a unique experience,” says Local 901 Trustee Jim Agopian who braved the wrath of guard dogs on his precinct walks. “I saw ‘226-NOs’ all over the place.” Union members he knows took vacation or a leave of absence to fight Prop 226. “The victory was sweet,” says Agopian, “like a ton of bricks lifted off my shoulders.” Now he’s preparing for November’s election.

The thing about Prop 226 that got to Local 1902 Exec. Pres. Robert Reeves was “how deceiving it was and the impact it would have on locals and councils if it went into effect.” The campaign acti-vated almost 60 members, he says, including “people who had sometimes questioned why they should volunteer.”

Reeves believes the victory will be positive for his local. It gives him a “bandstand.” He can point to what can be accomplished with a concentrated effort. “It certainly sends the message that we can make a change,” he says.

“I was so happy when I saw we had won,” says Riveros, who chairs the Council 36 PEOPLE Committee — AFSCME’s political action arm. “This is the first time I’ve seen the Labor movement so together in many, many years. Even people who are not unionized came out to support us.”

By Susan Ellen Holleran

 

Status of Paycheck Deception Efforts

California's Prop 226 was soundly defeated on June 2 with a 53.5 percent No vote. (Union members rejected the measure by a 71-29 percent edge.) On June 10, a district judge ruled Nevada's initiative unconstitutional and banned it from November's ballot. It won't be appealed.

The radical right is still working on an initiative in Oregon (see page 10).

Paycheck Deception bills were introduced in 29 states this year and defeated in 24. Wyoming enacted limits on campaign contributions. Legislation is still alive in Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Labor pulled together the votes to kill Congressional Paycheck Deception legislation in March, but House Speaker Newt Gingrich is twisting the rules to bring it up again. At least four congressional campaign finance propsals include this or other anti-union measures.