As theÂ A.F.L.-C.I.O.Â prepares to endorse President Obama on Tuesday, labor leaders say they will mount their biggest campaign effort, with far more union members than ever before â€” at least 400,000, they say â€” knocking on votersâ€™ doors to counter the well-endowed â€œsuper PACsâ€ backing Republicans.
The same Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that set the stage for these political action committees to accept unlimited donations also allowed unions to send their foot soldiers to visit not just union members at home, but also voters who do not belong to unions â€” a move expected to increase laborâ€™s political clout significantly in this yearâ€™s elections.
Unions first used their expanded ability in a big way in Ohio last November to educate and mobilize both union and nonunion voters in a battle to repeal a law that curbed bargaining rights for Ohioâ€™s teachers, firefighters and other public employees. Spurred by 17,000 union volunteers, labor won in a blowout, with Ohioans voting 62 percent to 38 percent toÂ repeal a lawÂ that the Republican-dominated Legislature had enacted seven months earlier.
â€œThat was a pretty big wake-up call to the Republican Party and also to the Democratic Party, because it showed what labor unions can do when theyâ€™re motivated and can reach out to voters across the board,â€ said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
With numerous super PACs expected to broadcast a flood of TV spots in support of the Republican nominee, the Obama campaign is looking to organized labor to play a major role in offsetting that. Labor leaders say they expect unions to spend $400 million this year on national, state and local elections â€” including $100 million by theÂ American Federation of State, County and Municipal EmployeesÂ â€” but they say their ground troops, not money, is laborâ€™s signal contribution.
Union officials assert that the elections this November, at the national and state levels, are vital to laborâ€™s future because Republicans have made repeated efforts to undermine unions, whether through Wisconsinâ€™s legislation toÂ curb public sector collective bargaining, Indianaâ€™sÂ â€œright to workâ€ lawÂ or CongressionalÂ efforts to weakenÂ the National Labor Relations Board.
Labor leaders voice confidence that they can rally millions of blue-collar voters behind President Obama in battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
â€œLook at what weâ€™ve already seen this year â€” the super PACs have spent tens of millions of dollars,â€Â Richard L. Trumka, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.â€™s president, said in an interview. â€œWeâ€™re going to counter that by getting people out. Weâ€™ll never be able to match them with money.â€