Sara Lonardo,

Issued November 07, 2018

SEIU members mobilize infrequent voters to vote for $15, affordable healthcare, opportunity to join unions, drive historic midterm turnout

Voters refuse to be divided by hate; turn out for bold, progressive agenda

WASHINGTON, DC - With elections across the country largely decided, it is clear that the work done by SEIU members and Fight for $15 activists to turn out infrequent voters—Black, Latinx, AAPI and women—in support of candidates who vowed to fight for policies like $15 an hour, a union no matter where you work, and affordable healthcare made the difference in races up and down the ballot. Motivated by a bold, progressive agenda, these voters, many of whom were not motivated to vote in previous elections, came out in record numbers.

“The key to this election was people who don’t always vote in midterms—Black, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander voters—turning out to say no to hatred and yes to a bold, progressive agenda,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. “Voters sent a crystal clear message: we want at least $15 an hour for every working person, accessible healthcare for every family, dignity for immigrants and refugees, and the opportunity to join in union, no matter where you work, so every working man and woman has a chance to have a better future. We will now work with newly-elected leaders and ensure they deliver on these important issues.”

SEIU members, together with our partners, knocked on over 3.6 million doors this election cycle and sent over 700,000 text messages. Over 13,000 members led our efforts, running GOTV efforts and building a long term program for political change.

By beginning early, with a field program in 62 House districts and a goal of reclaiming power by winning governorships and state legislative races in the Midwest and in other key states, SEIU members and Fight for $15 activists began engaging communities of color to inspire infrequent voters and connect with them on the issues. The elected officials who came through on the issues of higher wages, affordable healthcare, and the right to join a union were the ones who succeeded today.

SEIU members and Fight for $15 and a Union activists in Michigan knocked on 700,000 doors and talked to more than 56,000 registered voters in Detroit and Flint, and engaged more than one million area voters online. Their work led to Wayne County increasing turnout from 177,691 in 2014 to over 300,000 this year. “I was first inspired to get involved in 2008 when Obama was running for President, but now I realize just how critical midterm elections are, especially as a public employee. The Governor and all his or her appointees are the ones who determine the budget and rules for public employees and our schools so it affects me in more than one way: as a resident and as an employee,” said SEIU 517M President Joey Combs. “Taking away our right to join together in a union has hurt many working families in Michigan who continue to fight for higher wages and better benefits, that’s why I made sure to get involved and turn out voters to vote for Gretchen Whitmer.”

In an effort to elect a governor who will support higher wages and the right to join a union, SEIU members in Illinois were out in full force this midterm. They began hitting the streets early and continued through the election. SEIU Healthcare Illinois/Indiana/Missouri/Kansas (HCIIMK) member Annie Wilder, a home care provider for over 14 years in Maywood, Ill., said: “I got involved by knocking on SEIU members’ doors to get out the vote. By educating workers about how Gov. Rauner has stopped child care providers from getting our raises and how he’s cut child care services for families, we were able to get infrequent voters to turnout. We’ve got a bright future with JB Pritzker as our next Illinois Governor because he’s for working people.”

In Colorado, SEIU members and partners knocked on over 186,000 doors, including 51,711 doors of infrequent voters in communities of color in the Denver metro area. Propelled by numbers like that voters elected Jared Polis governor and Jason Crow to Congress. They also put Democrats in charge of both chambers of the General Assembly. "Electing Jared Polis governor, sending our champions —like Jason Crow—to Congress, and winning power in the state senate through key races like SD 20 were so critical this year. I knew I had to get active, which is why I worked to educate the Ethiopian community and other infrequent voters about voting in the midterm election,” said SEIU 105 member Yemane Woldesilassie, who, following a shift at the Denver Airport, canvassed without any sleep.

Partnering with CASA in Action, SEIU Virginia 512 and 32BJ ran a canvassing and  communications program in Virginia targeting infrequent voters that reached over 32,000 doors in just a matter of weeks. Those voters turned out to send Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger, and Elaine Luria to Congress. SEIU Virginia 512 Loudoun Chapter Chair and psychiatric nurse Patti Nelson worked with her union brothers and sisters for years to pass Medicaid expansion in the Virginia state budget. She said, "I did not use to worry about health insurance. Now, I worry everyday. There is a lawsuit right now to strip protections from the ACA. Most of us, at some point in our lives, is going to have a pre-existing condition. In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was lucky. They caught it early. I had really good treatment. I am two years a survivor. Now, I am one of 330,000 stories of people with pre-existing conditions who lives in the 10th Congressional District of Virginia. SEIU Virginia 512 members fought for Medicaid expansion for six years, and Jennifer Wexton fought with us, side by side. She has stood up for this, against all odds, and never gave up. She is a health care warrior and that’s why I made sure to get out the voter for her this midterm election.”

Pennsylvania members knocked on over 416,000 doors, helping increase turnout in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties from 355,074 and 378,807 in 2014 to over 519,000 and over 532,000 this year. “After the Janus decision and seeing the effort to dismantle unions, I decided it was time to get involved in SEIU’s political program. I’d never canvassed but after seeing what happens when people don’t vote, I laced up my shoes and hit the pavement for Governor Wolf and Congressman Cartwright. We need elected officials like them to stand up and fight for the elderly and people with disabilities,” said Kelly Blacker, a certified nursing assistant at Dunmore Healthcare Center and member of SEIU Healthcare PA.

Minnesota SEIU members like Nazra Ahmed canvassed and made phone calls to elect Tim Walz as their next governor. "As a home care worker I know the importance of having people who understand and support our families in office. I'm proud of the thousands of hours that SEIU members in Minnesota have put in door knocking and phone banking supporting candidates who support us," said Ahmed, a home care worker who is a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. "I've never been involved in politics before this election, but now I feel like I've found my voice as I join others working towards electing people who will work with us to build a state where every family—white, black or brown—have quality care so seniors and people with disabilities, and the people who care for them, can live full and happy lives."

32BJ SEIU and SEIU 1199 UHE members in New York and New Jersey held Republican members of Congress who voted to take away their healthcare accountable. “I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and I find it totally inexcusable that Trump and his supporters in Congress have repeatedly tried to change the law to allow insurance companies to discriminate against people who have preexisting medical conditions. We need to elect leaders who make protecting access to healthcare a key part of their pledge to our country. For me and my family, there’s a lot riding on this election, which is why I knew I had to get involved in a big way,” said Jerry Christensen, an 1199 member and certified nursing assistant from Willingboro, N.J.

“Working people’s wages have been under attack for years and I’m watching politicians try to take away people’s healthcare. I know that if some politicians have their way, our lives would change for the worse. Today this is affecting someone else, but tomorrow I know it could be me. So I have to be involved now. Together we can make a difference. I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” said Richard Iorio, an SEIU 32BJ member who works in maintenance at a large residential building in New York.

Child care workers, adjunct professors, healthcare workers, janitors, security officers, public employees and other SEIU members turned out in California to elect Gavin Newsom as their next governor. “Getting out the vote for Gavin Newsom and Assemblyman Anthony Rendon was important to me because they actually put forth effort to hear us and make changes. They listen to the people in the neighborhoods they are elected to represent. As a child care worker for over 33 years, it’s important to me that elected officials understand that we are educated, work hard and deserve fair wages and quality benefits,” said SEIU Local 99 member Renaldo Sanders.

In Kansas, HCIIMK members rejected the politics of hatred and division by electing Laura Kelly as Kansas’s next governor, who put healthcare at the forefront of her campaign. “In Kansas, people came together across racial lines this election because we knew that it was the only way we would elect Laura Kelly as our next governor,” said Margie Hoffa, pharmacy buyer at Menorah Medical Center and executive board member of SEIU Healthcare Missouri Kansas. “I’m so proud to have worked this year to make a difference and lift up working families.”

SEIU Maine State Employees Association members elected Attorney General Janet Mills as their next governor. MSEA member Lois Baxter, a retired program administrator at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said: “We can count on Janet Mills to implement the voter-approved Medicaid expansion so tens of thousands of eligible Mainers can get the healthcare they desperately need. As Maine’s attorney general, Janet Mills held the current governor accountable for failing to hire the public health nurses required in Maine law. We can count on Janet Mills to stand up for workers and to keep fighting for the workers who protect Maine children. And we can count on her to keep fighting for retired workers like me who have dedicated our careers to public service.”

Reelecting Governor Kate Brown, who has stood up for working people, and defeating a measure that would have reversed Oregon’s sanctuary city law motivated SEIU members like Jacquline Battle to get out the vote. "Our union’s political program isn’t just politics as usual, it’s how we make our voices heard on important topics that impact members directly. I support this important work because it impacts our wages and benefits, and helps us build stronger communities,” said Battle, who works at the Kaiser Northwest Telehealth Center and is SEIU Local 49 member.

SEIU members and Fight for $15 activists knocked on the doors of 230,000 Wisconsin voters. The focus on infrequent voters of color from low-income communities whose turnout dropped significantly in the 2016 election helped Tony Evers defeat anti-union icon Scott Walker for Governor. Evers has said Wisconsin could get to $15 an hour in his first term. "I worked to get out the vote this midterm election because I've seen the benefits of what a union can do for working families,” said Fight for $15 activist Wanda Lavender, who works 160 hours per two weeks at Popeye’s and a local daycare center in Milwaukee. “Here in Milwaukee, when the service and hospitality workers at Bucks Stadium won $15 an hour through a community agreement, I knew I had to keep fighting. We need politicians who understand the impacts that healthcare cuts and low pay have on Wisconsin families."

A multi-year effort in Florida, including work coordinated through the Win Justice coalition, gave 1.4 million disenfranchised residents the right to vote with the passing of Amendment 4, and helped Sen. Nelson and Andrew Gillum with their strong showings.

While Stacy Abrams wasn’t able to pull off a victory in Georgia in the face of that state’s voter suppression, it remains a very close race with the help of SEIU Workers United Southern Regional Joint Board members and Fight for $15 and a Union activists, like Adam Gilliard, who canvassed for Abrams because she stood with working people on the issues. "Our fight isn’t over; we’re just getting started,” said Gilliard, who works at an Atlanta Waffle House. “We want at least $15 an hour and a union for everyone in Georgia, no matter where you work. We want affordable healthcare."