If you’ve paid any attention to the media narrative following Congressman Mark Critz’s surprise come-from-behind victory over Congressman Jason Altmire in the 12th Congressional District, you’ll know that organized labor was the decisive factor in winning the race. Aside from press releases and infusions of cash, there remains the untold story of the behind-the-scenes field operations and mass mobilizations that were truly novel in this election cycle.
The Supreme Court ruling in Citizen’s United changed many aspects of our electoral system, mostly for the worse. However, one result of the decision is that labor unions are now allowed to talk to the general voting public and maintain their own Super PACs.
With the creation of the AFL-CIO’s new Workers’ Voice Super PAC, the labor movement has moved into uncharted territory. No longer focusing solely on union voters, Citizens United has increased the size of organized labor’s voter universe while Workers Voice has allowed labor to target their outreach more precisely than ever before. Many of the new tactics that organized labor has been developing were put to the test in their campaign to elect Mark Critz.
According to Yuri Beckelman, the AFL-CIO’s Campaign Communications Director in Pennsylvania, this election “was sort of a trial run,” adding that the newly-tested campaign tactics “will be even more effective in the future.”
Given the impact of the labor movement’s new tactics, it is worth taking an in-depth look at the Critz victory and the role that organized labor played in the win.
First, a look at the raw numbers.
Pennsylvania unions that endorsed Mark Critz contributed over 600 volunteers who knocked on over 10,000 doors, made over 64,000 phone calls, and sent over 36,000 pieces of mail. Tim Waters, National Political Director for the United Steel Workers, said that 192 USW and other union members made 32,345 calls and knocked on 5,211 doors in Allegheny, Beaver and Cambria counties in the last 36 hours leading up to the election.
“We and our labor allies ran an experienced, smart grassroots field program with shoe leather and sheer determination,” said Leo Gerard, President of the USW.
The Mine Workers, SEIU and the Alliance for Retired Americans also made significant contributions in terms of field operations.
The result of this influx of on-the-ground volunteers was staggering. In Cambria and Somerset Counties, turnout was 34% and 27% respectively, a surprisingly high percentage that was not expected given the precipitation in the early morning of the election.
Despite trailing in the polls in union households a week before the election, Critz won union voters in his old district by 91% to 9% among active members, 73% to 27% among retired members, and 70% to 30% among union households.
Critz also won retired union members and union households in Altmire’s old district and narrowed Altmire’s support among active union members in the old 4th District by 10%, compared to an AFL-CIO survey of the district from late March.
The union vote, in most elections, has only a considerable impact given that private-sector union members have a predicted probability of voting 6.7 points higher than non-members, while public-sector members have a predicted probability of voting only 2.4 points higher than non-members.
But, when the margins are as lopsided as they were in this particular election, those few percentage points begin to add up quickly—especially in this race, where Critz won by a scarce 1,248 votes.
Union activism, though, is not the main novelty in this election. What is new is the way in which union field operations were carried out within the paradigm of Workers Voice.
Workers Voice is the AFL-CIO’s new Super PAC that will work as a permanent campaign tool that is “radically different” than other Super PACs in order to try to respond to the big money Super PACs that will be spending tens of millions in each battleground state. Created last year, Workers’ Voice has raised more than $3.7 million, according to FEC records.
While not fully implemented yet, the 2012 Primary Election was a test run for the newly developed modern campaign techniques that organized labor will fully employ in the General Election. Again, the big difference is that labor can now (post-Citizens United) talk to the general public.
According to Beckelman, organized labor used their own internal, top-end modeling program to decide where they were going to allocate their resources. The program, called the Labor Action Network, or “LAN,” is organized labor’s version of the Voter Access Network, or “VAN,” which is used by Democratic campaigns across the nation. Using LAN, union organizers were cutting their own turf for walk packs and generating their own target voter universes.
For previous elections, union members would volunteer for a campaign just as any other off-the-street volunteer might do. This time, however, organized labor had their own operations across the 12th District hitting doors in their independently generated target voter universes.
“In the past, we always ran these campaigns talking to our own voters and our members would volunteer on campaigns,” added Beckelman. “This time, we ran our campaign as if Critz had no field operation. We were aiming to win 50 plus 1.”
Critz campaign manager Mike Mikus echoed Beckelman, saying that Critz’s supporters in organized labor were “completely autonomous,” adding that the Critz campaign wrote and ran their field plan as if labor support was not part of the equation.
Labor organizations and campaigns are still not allowed to coordinate under the Citizens United decision. This means that the two cannot share lists and voter universes, so there will still be some overlap and inefficiencies in voter outreach.
In the upcoming General Election, the LAN will be replaced with a new digital organizing tool, “Amicus,” that combines online campaigning with labor’s traditional strength in ground-game canvassing and phone banking.
It was this new program, Amicus under the direction of Workers Voice, that Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale was referring to when he said, following Election Day, “today is a new day and a new beginning in building an even stronger, more effective mobilization and education program that gives working families the voice they need and deserve in our State and across the Nation.”
Workers Voice will also begin to allow volunteers to make funding decisions in elections across the country. By making phone calls, knocking on doors, or participating in other campaign activities, activists will receive credit toward determining where Workers Voice directs its financial resources.
“We are kind of jumping off a cliff and opening ourselves up to democracy. We are going to empower people and empower workers in a way that’s not been done before,” said Workers’ Voice spokesman Eddie Vale.
If Mark Critz’s victory in the 12th District is any indication, then organized labor will play an even bigger role in the General Election and well into the future. Statewide, 86% of the candidates endorsed by the AFL-CIO won their election because of tactics similar to those utilized in the 12th Congressional District. With further improvements expected, it is an exciting time to be a labor activist.