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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Nov 6, 2012, 7:30 pm

In Massachusetts, Unions Helped Get Out the Vote for Elizabeth Warren (Updated)

BY Sarah Betancourt

Leslie Stafford, a personal care attendant and member of 1199SEIU, is part of labor's drive to get out the vote for Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.   (Sarah Betancourt)

Update: Elizabeth Warren won a decisive victory. With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Warren led Brown by 8 percentage points, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Labor in Massachusetts will be cheering Elizabeth Warren's upset of incumbent Sen. Scott Brown. The AFL-CIO, Massachusetts Teachers Association and SEIU--three of the largest labor organizations in the state--all threw their weight behind Warren months ago, bringing with them the grassroots support of the 750 local unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and the nearly 585,000 working class families represented by all three labor organizations.

SEIU recruited 1,000 volunteers to get out the vote for Warren and President Barack Obama across the state. The majority of the volunteers are members of 1199SEIU, the Boston-based local that represents many service-sectors workers across the Northeast. "1199SEIU members are overwhelmingly in support of Elizabeth Warren," says 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Veronica Turner, and members recognize that they have to "back up their endorsements with a strong level of participation and mobilization."

Leslie Stafford--a single mother of two, personal care assistant, and member of 1199--is part of that mobilization. Though she was laid off from her position as a patient access representative at Boston Medical Center and has not been able to find work since, Stafford has been active in the SEIU community action team for the past few months. When I caught up to her this morning, she was helping an elderly man into her car to take him to the polls, a job she'd been performing since 6 a.m.

"I'm out here to help people be part of the journey and the change," Stafford says. "This is a non-partisan push for getting out the vote, but I can tell you from a personal perspective that Elizabeth Warren looks out for single mothers, and for women's rights. Scott Brown is anti-union, and hasn't done much for the working class. Warren understands where we're coming from. We're just going door-to-door today making sure everyone is educated about where and when they can vote."

Asked why 1199SEIU supports Warren, Turner says, "Elizabeth Warren has been clear in her support of affordable, quality healthcare for all, creating good jobs for working families, and of ensuring tax fairness – supporting proposals like the Buffet rule – and we’re confident she will continue to emphasize these key priorities if she is elected to the U.S. Senate. So far, Brown’s track record on the issues of healthcare, jobs, and tax fairness are very troubling, and seem to be about toeing his party’s line more than doing what’s best for Massachusetts."

What unions find particularly worrisome is Brown's vote against Obama's second stimulus plan, the American Jobs Act, which would have invested more than $850 million in Massachusetts' infrastructure. They cite an October study by the New England Council that found 27,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure. In addition to Brown stopping the creation of 23,000 jobs in the state, unions also cite his vote to filibuster the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, which would have provided enough funds for 6,300 educational workers in the state. They also decry Brown's vote to cut Pell Grants by $5.7 billion, adversely affecting 135,000 Massachusetts students.

Paul F. Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, is blunt in his criticism of Brown. "He's voted the wrong way on the issues," Toner says. "We invited him to take part of our endorsement process for the 2012 Senate campaign, but he didn't take part. It's hard to consider someone when they won't even fill in the questionnaire."

As for Warren, on the eve of the vote, Toner says she "represents the values of our members the best. She's been to two of our events this year, and our members just tallied up their calls for her over the past two months: 150,000 calls. We hope she'll prevail this evening. There are a lot of people out at the polls. I've never seen anything like it in 30 years, except for back in 2008."

Sarah Betancourt is a Boston-based journalist who has worked for Patch, Fox News' Liberaland, and Open Media Boston.

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