SEIU's Anna Burger feels her oats

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The 2008 election results, headlined by Democratic nominee Barack Obama's White House win, provide a mandate for changes to boost the lives of workers and their families, leaders of Change to Win said.

And in a Nov. 6 D.C. press conference, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger and pollster Celinda Lake were joined by union workers who said much the same thing, citing reasons from health care reform to the Employee Free Choice Act to racial reconciliation that led them to endorse Obama early and campaign vigorously for him.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

"American workers won this election," Burger declared, after the union coalition dedicated thousands of its members to four specific-themed weeks of campaigning before the Nov. 4 balloting, telling their friends, allies and colleagues about the differences between Obama and GOP nominee John McCain.

"This mandate has been so overwhelming for a progressive agenda" that includes secure pensions, good jobs, universal health care, equal pay on the job and the right to organize, she added.

"On Nov. 4, they (U.S. voters) turned a page on the tax breaks for the rich, on the trickle-down economics and on the unrestrained corporate greed" that characterized the regime of anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, Burger stated.

Voters and workers "envision a 21st century with respect for work, a health care system for everyone and jobs to build a green environment. We won the election, but we want to change our country," she added--meaning CTW would keep the pressure on Obama and other elected officials to do so.

Lake's poll, which covered 700 non-supervisory workers--22% of them union members, retirees or members of union households--showed a 53%-37% Obama-McCain margin, below the 2-to-1 Obama lead in the unionists-only poll conducted for the AFL-CIO. The proportion of unionists/household members/retirees in Lake's poll matched that in the overall electorate, at least according to exit polls.

In Lake's sample, 53% called the economy and jobs their top issue and another 19% put it second, for 72% total. No other issue got out of single digits as the workers' top factor. Health care and prescription drugs, at 17% combined, was second when workers were asked their top two issues. Almost nine in ten workers felt both the U.S. economy and their own families' economy were on the wrong track.

Workers are now more willing than they were at the beginning of the Reagan era, in 1980, to get the government into fixing the economy, including regulating business practices, the poll showed. It had 37% of workers saying "too much government regulation interferes with the free market." But 54% agreed "our current crisis was the result of deregulation and lack of corporate oversight that let greed run wild."

Asked to set the priorities for Obama and the new Democratic Congress, workers put protecting pensions and health care first, saying politicians should guarantee that "employers keep their promises to employees" in those two areas. On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being the top score, that goal drew a mean of 9.2.

There was a 3-way tie for second among enacting universal, affordable health care, fair trade agreements, and equal pay for equal work, each with a mean of 8.8. They were followed by cracking down on oil companies and speculators, a progressive tax system, rebuilding infrastructure, protection from predatory lending, investment in job training and green technologies, making it easier to recover from bankruptcy or foreclosure, and passing a new stimulus package.

The Employee Free Choice Act, labor's top cause, ranked last among goals workers picked for the new president and Congress. Phrased as "making it easier for working people to form unions without management interference so they negotiate better pay and benefits," EFCA drew a mean score of 7.6, with 41% giving it a "10" on the scale. It was the only priority where fewer than half the respondents voted "10."

The CTW-member-union workers who campaigned for Obama also mentioned other reasons for getting out on the hustings, sometimes pausing as the emotional impact of electing the first African-American president overcame them.

"We first had to tear down these barriers to us at home, at the worksite, even in our own unions," said Keith McCorkle of Teamsters Local 391 in eastern North Carolina--a state where a huge African-American turnout pushed it from being reliably Republican to Obama's column. North Carolina is also the least-unionized state.

"Barack came in and he didn't talk at us, he talked to us," McCorkle said with emphasis. "This trickle-down economy never trickled down to me." If it had, "that's where the wealth gets spread," he added.

"We went back to neighborhoods in Columbus (Ohio) to convince people their voices will be heard," said Jennifer Fullom of SEIU District 1199 in Cleveland. Her metro area was so pro-Obama that its union workers headed south, to the rest of Ohio. Obama carried the state.


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