African-American Vote, Steelworker Mobilization Help Tip Alabama Senate Race to Jones

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Dan Flippo, the Birmingham-based Steelworkers district director for the Deep South, noticed something interesting when he looked at Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore’s last run for statewide office.

Moore barely won that Alabama Supreme Court race. He did, however, win Mobile. And GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump won Mobile by 14 percentage points in 2016. “If we can reverse that result in Mobile,” Flippo thought, “we can beat Moore.”

And that, in so many words, is what the Steelworkers’ door-to-door canvassing, phone banking and mobilization helped to accomplish in Mobile. In the Dec. 12 vote, Democratic nominee Doug Jones, son of a Steelworker, won Mobile by 56 percent-42 percent – and the state by one and a half percentage points.

Mobile’s shift was one part of the reason Jones won 49.9 percent of the vote to Moore’s 48.4 percent. A major factor was the African-American vote, accounting for 30 percent of the electorate – a higher share than when Barack Obama ran for president. African-Americans went for Jones by 96 percent to 4 percent.

Those voters knew Jones had successfully prosecuted the racists who bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young black choir girls, in 1963. They also knew Moore said he wanted to repeal every U.S. constitutional amendment since the Bill of Rights – including those outlawing slavery and guaranteeing citizenship to everyone born in the U.S., regardless of race, creed or prior servitude.

In addition, a majority of white women with college degrees voted for Jones, That may have been an expression of disgust over the numerous accusations that Moore sexually molested teenage girls when he was a local prosecutor in his 30s. 

Mobile was a case study for how unions can make a difference electorally, even in deep-red Alabama.

The Steelworkers’ campaign in Mobile was augmented by the Government Employees in central Alabama, the building trades in several areas and the teachers – the Alabama Education Association – in Birmingham.

Together, the unions made up for the dearth of Democratic Party organization in the state, say Flippo and state AFL-CIO President Bren Riley, also a Steelworker from Gadsden.

“Once we saw what happened on the Republican side, we decided to play big,” Flippo said in a telephone interview the day after the Dec. 12 Jones win.

In addition, Jones “had a Steelworker history,” having worked in unionized steel mills as a teenager during summers, while his father was a career Steelworker at U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works outside Birmingham.

“We think Jones can really help the state and can bring in more manufacturing jobs,” Flippo explained. Those are well-paying jobs “and that’s good for organized labor. When workers prosper, everybody prospers.”

So the union put seven reps in Mobile for a month and a half in the run-up to the Dec. 12 vote, Flippo said. They went door-to-door, averaging 1,500 door-knocks daily, and ran an extensive phone bank, too. “We kind of thought we could move Mobile,” Flippo said in an understatement. 

They also sent canvassers into Montgomery. That city went for Jones, 72 percent to 26 percent.

The state federation concentrated on Montgomery and Alabama’s “Black Belt,” an area in the south named for its fertile soil, but also with one of the state’s highest concentrations of African-Americans.

Sometimes the Democratic Party structure was so hapless that the unions had to step in with basics, such as yard signs, Riley said. The national AFL-CIO sent two regional field reps, skilled in get-out-the-vote, to help.  

Riley believes more Democrats can be elected in Alabama and more workplaces organized in the low union density state if labor steps up like it did in the senate race.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work