AFL-CIO Gears Up for Midterms With New Political Office

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By Jaclyn Diaz

The AFL-CIO selected a former DNC staffer to head its new political campaign division, and she’ll be focusing on the 2018 midterm elections first.

The federation, which represents 55 affiliate unions, is making a long-term investment in elections through its Mobilization Hub, Julie Greene, its first chief, said.

The AFL-CIO says it will support political candidates, no matter the party, whose platform is based on supporting working people. The department will also recruit and train affiliate union members to run for office.

“We have a big task at hand. This is not just about 2018 or 2020, this is about building power for the long term. And building it for working people. That’s the machine we’re trying to build. It’s not about what happens in 10 months or what happens in 2018. It’s for the long haul,” said Greene, who previously held leadership positions at the Democratic National Committee.

Bipartisanship Vow Draws Skepticism

The AFL-CIO may say it won’t automatically support the establishment Democratic candidate, but that’s unlikely, said F. Vincent Vernuccio, a senior fellow at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“If they’re lockstep in supporting the policies and politics of the past, that doesn’t really change much,” he said.

The federation has largely supported Democrats in the past. This focus on independent political mobilization comes after the election of President Donald Trump, which surprised many.

The AFL-CIO endorsed Hillary Clinton, and CNN’s exit polling found Clinton won union households 51 percent to 48 percent. Still, Trump received a higher percentage of union votes than Republicans received in the past.

But Vernuccio remains skeptical.

“I would be surprised if the AFL-CIO gave less than 9-to-1 support to Democrats over Republicans. Ninety percent of their support goes to Democrats,” he said.

Hub Plans

The Hub will use its resources to back union-supportive candidates for the congressional midterms. Beyond 2018, it will recruit and educate union members interested in running for office at all levels of government, Greene said.

“No one’s going to know the plight of working people like another working person. No one’s going to know the issues union members are facing like another union member,” Greene said of labor candidates. “You’ve got union members all across the country, even around the globe, who are interested in running. But first we have to identify who they are and where they are.”

Affiliate members will help identify the prospective labor candidates and train them on the ins and outs of campaigning. New candidates often need help figuring out who to hire for the campaign, how to fund raise, and how to explain local issues to their constituents in a meaningful way, Greene said.

“If we do it right and we do it well, which we will, we’re going to win,” she said.

The AFL-CIO started forming the Hub in 2017 during the beginning of its still-ongoing reorganization, which has included layoffs and department consolidation. Roughly 75 staffers will report to Greene, but that number can grow as the federation expands campaign efforts, an AFL-CIO representative told Bloomberg Law.

The Hub is the largest department at the AFL-CIO. It’s financed through the federation budget, but the AFL-CIO wouldn’t divulge how much the organization is spending to fund it. Costs vary depending on elections, current campaigns, and affiliate needs.

2016’s Influence

Greene said she believes the AFL-CIO would have sought these changes even if the 2016 election had turned out differently.

“Maybe it’s accelerated the timeline of us being here, but absolutely,” she said. “Administrations flip every four years, every eight years, but one thing that’s constant is that labor is under assault.”

Greene returns to the federation after working as director of the DNC’s Office of Democratic National Committee Leadership. Previously, she was deputy political director for the AFL-CIO.

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