In Final Days, Labor Mounts Full-Court Press for Clinton

NILES, Ohio – As they walked down Ward Avenue, Paulette Jackson and Alan Dust didn’t meet everyone they hoped to. Working from prepared lists of houses, the two set out to meet residents and remind them why they should vote for Hillary Clinton.

More often than not, their knocks went unanswered. When that happens, they explain, they mark it down, leave a flier and move to the next house. The pair was assigned to visit 77 houses Wednesday afternoon. Of the dozen or so homes on Ward Avenue, only four answered their knocks.

They aren’t new to this. Jackson, who’s from Brooklyn, N.Y., has been canvassing for Clinton since the primaries and has worked across the country. Dust, from Whitesboro, N.Y., started volunteering just before Labor Day. What brought them to Niles was an afternoon canvass organized by the local AFL-CIO unions.

“They always helped me out, so I’m trying to help them out,” Dust said of his union in New York. “I started with one [canvass] and I liked it, so I turned around and did more. I get to meet a lot of people, see a lot of places.”

Last week, he was in Cincinnati and before that Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Jackson has worked in New York, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He sees differences between the Mahoning Valley and the other cities they’ve been to.

“Here, and it’s not so much in California, I see a lot of people who have one thing and that’s what they’re against,” Jackson said.


Above: Canvassers Alan Dust and Paulette Jackson were assigned to knock on doors on Ward Avenue in Niles.

Every venue has its own script and they’re largely the same. Canvassers are given the stances of each candidate, but for the seasoned volunteers, what they talk about is based largely on their own knowledge.

“You have to keep up with what’s on TV and as a New Yorker, I know what he’s [Donald Trump has] done in the city and in New Jersey,” Jackson said. “I hear all different points of view. When people are ready for it, they’re ready for it.”

The lines between the supporters of the two major presidential nominees have never been starker. Going up to one house set back from the street – canvassers are sent only to houses where the campaign has little information – Dust notes that you always have to be aware of your surroundings. If an entrance isn’t visible from the road, Jackson and Dust approach the door together rather than each take one side of the street.

At this address, there wasn’t much except an excited dog that jumped at the window. A man answered the door and, seeing Dust’s pro-Clinton T-shirt, said he and his wife, whose name was on the list, are voting for Donald Trump.

“You can usually tell who’s made up their mind,” Dust said. “I’m not here to have a conversation with everyone. Most people are nice about it. I don’t have too many issues.”

The purpose of canvassing, they explained, is to disseminate information. Usually, it’s information about the candidate they support, but sometimes it’s as basic as clearing up misconceptions about organizations such as Planned Parenthood or new education policies.

In one case, Jackson helped someone eager to vote, but too sick to leave home.

“I told him about mail-in [ballots] and that it was the last day. And he was in hurry then to get it done,” she said. “What I find is that it reminds a lot of people. I like informing people and every once in a while, I persuade some people. … As a retiree, I didn’t want to sit at home and do nothing. If I had known I’d have so much fun doing this, I’d have retired earlier.”

To reinforce the enthusiasm of the door-to-door volunteers and local union leaders, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made two stops in Mahoning Valley Wednesday before heading out to crisscross Pennsylvania the remainder of the week.

At both events, a round table with leaders in Boardman followed by the rally at the United Steel Workers hall in Niles, Trumka cited what he perceives as the shortcomings of Republican nominee Donald Trump, striking largely the same tone as U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio and other surrogates for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s policies, Trumka said, would cost the United States some three million jobs. Trump’s clothing lines are manufactured in Asia and Mexico. The steel for his buildings was made in China. He supports right-to-work policies. Trump has mocked people with disabilities and made casual statements about sexually assaulting women.

“He wants to govern by fear and division. He wants to make it harder for the working people. His programs would devastate collective bargaining,” Trumka said at the round table. “He would tear our country apart and God knows what he’d do internationally. … He wants to say, ‘You can only win if she loses and he can only win if she loses.’ That’s the America he’s trying to make and it’s not the America I grew up with.”

The union officers, who represent locals 1112 and 1714 of the United Auto Workers, and United Steel Workers locals, the AFL-CIO and the National Association of Letter Carriers as well as the Louisville Education Association, agreed.

“The calls around this table were for this country to be unified more than it is,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, afterward. “The people I’ve talked to understand the difference that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate and Donald Trump doesn’t have the experience or temperament or depth or wisdom to be commander-in-chief.”

Later in the day, at the Steel Workers hall in Niles, Trumka made a second appearance to motivate canvassers for the Clinton campaign, hitting the same notes before 80 canvassers set out to visit neighborhoods throughout Trumbull County.

The purpose of the stops was twofold: First, unions have the infrastructure to convey and disseminate information. The AFL-CIO represents 56 unions and more than 12 million workers across the country. Unions has a presence in nearly every community and their members are usually involved in the civic lives of their hometown, he said.

Second, workers are more likely to listen to co-workers and local union leaders more than politicians or the press. He referred to a study the AFL-CIO conducted where putting piles of mail were set in front of members. Then they were asked to sort them into what they’d look at immediately, set aside for later or throw away.

The No. 1 pile that was kept, he said, were letters from the presidents of their locals.

“They read that immediately because they know it will affect their life. They always read those letters, even if it’s set aside for later,” he said. “What they always tossed were most of the stuff from candidates and stuff from the party was further down the list than that.”

What matters is that people get out to vote. And that, he said, is what Wednesday’s stops were all about.

“Ohio is going to be a close vote, so every vote counts. Getting people out to vote, getting them motivated is our goal,” he said. “When working people come out and vote and stand together, they always win.”

Top Picture: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka implores labor union members to get out the vote for Hillary Clinton. He spoke Wednesday at the United Steel Workers hall in Niles.

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