AFL-CIO expands Pa. voter contacts

Over the past couple of months, AFL-CIO volunteers have made more than 3 million voter contacts in Pennsylvania, the heart of organized labor’s efforts to lift President Obama, Sen. Bob Casey (D) and Democratic congressional candidates in the state.

The campaign reflects AFL-CIO’s expanded reach in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money advocating for or against candidates for office.

Before the 2010 ruling, the nation’s largest labor federation was allowed to communicate political messages to its membership but limited to general-issues advocacy when it came to other voters. Now, AFL-CIO has its own super PAC, Workers’ Voice to connect with voters who might not be union members but are sympathetic to labor’s causes and candidates.

“We’re now hitting every single door in our targeted universe,” said David Driscoll-Knight, Pennsylvania state director for the labor federation. “We know with a very strong likelihood who’s going to be a supporter in a given area.”

The AFL-CIO used a survey with a sample of 10,000 voters to develop a system for scoring every voter in the state on a 100-point scale, Driscoll-Knight said. In areas dense with supporters, it sends out door-to-door canvassers to get out the vote, and reaches simpatico voters in other areas through phone banks, he said.

Of course, the AFL-CIO still relies on its traditional politicking among union members, including workplace leafleting campaigns - as well as direct mail pieces from local union presidents to their memberships. “Local leaders have a lot of sway,” Driscoll-Knight said. “Union members frequently get letters from their local president; when they get one, they’re going to open it up and read it.”

Since the summer, about 5,000 union volunteers in Pennsylvania have logged 966,124 phone calls, knocked on 638,528 doors, and passed out 1.46 million fliers to union members at work sites.

Last Saturday, the AFL-CIO had 1,562 people knocking on doors in Pennsylvania, and another 167 making phone calls to the unions’ targeted voters.