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Big Labor Gets Out The Vote In South LA

Hillel Aron |
October 30, 2010 | 4:05 p.m. PDT



Michelle Reed and Yolanda Richard of SEIU-LTCW
Michelle Reed and Yolanda Richard of SEIU-LTCW
Just how important will African-American turnout be to Democrats on Tuesday?

“You have to win a significant percentage of the African-American vote,” Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, told me. “It’s an incredibly loyal base, but it needs to be turned out. You have to get them excited about an issue or a candidate.”

She added, “Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer are taking the African American vote in LA for granted.”

The LA County Federation of Labor held a rally Saturday morning, starring congressional candidate Karen Bass (currently a member of the state assembly), Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Butler, and an assortment of labor leaders. 

“We are hours away from sending a message to this country that we have not drank the tea!” said Bass to the small crowd made up mostly of union workers.

“I want to make it as clear as I can,” said Ridley-Thomas, “If we don’t turn out, we don’t win.”

Getting Out the Vote: Union-Style

After the rally, much of the audience heads out to neighborhoods across South LA to “Get Out the Vote,” a practice known affectionately to campaign workers as GOTV. It’s a vital part of every campaign where campaign staff and volunteers go door-to-door, reminding people to vote. 

I have the opportunity to tag along with Yolanda Richard and Michelle Reed, two SEIU-ULTCW workers, as they canvass a neighborhood in Inglewood. Like 60 or so union members that day, Yolanda and Michelle aren’t volunteering– they’re getting paid $100 for an eight-hour day’s work. 

Which is not to say they aren’t enthusiastic supporters of both labor and democrats. They’ve been in the union for more than 20 years, working as at-home health care workers for the elderly and disabled. In that time, they've also worked almost every national election. In 2008 they helped Barack Obama carry the state of Colorado. 

“Can we count on your vote for Jerry Brown?” Michelle asks a young man who answers the door.

“Who’s Jerry Brown?” the man replies.

“Oh my,” says Michelle.

Not a good sign. She hands the man some brochures– “literature,” in campaign speak. Today, Michelle’s union is pushing for Brown, Barbara Boxer, Kamala Harris, yes on propositions 24 and 25, and Danny Tabor for mayor of Inglewood.

“I like to do my own research,” says the man.

Harris, locked in a tight race with Steve Cooley for Attorney General, is especially popular with Michelle and Yolanda. They like Karen Bass as well, but with some reservations.

“She could have fought harder for health care workers, against Schwarzenegger,” says Michelle.

“What about Barbara Boxer?” I ask.

Five seconds of awkward silence follow, and they change the subject.

We’ve knocked on about eight doors and talked to two people when Reed gets a phone call. They want us to make a quick stop at a rally in Crenshaw. This is another thing union workers are called in to do– fill out a rally, make some noise, give the place some energy.

But by the time we arrive at the parking lot of Crenshaw Plaza, we’ve missed the rally. So they each grab a Krispy Kreme donut and a handful of pastries and walk back to the car.

“What we pick up, we’ll walk off,” says Richard. 

It’s 11:40 by the time we get back to our block on Inglewood. Most of the names on our list either aren’t home or pretending not to be home. Finally, a woman in pink answers the door.

“Are you supporting Jerry Brown?” asks Yolanda.

The woman in pink stares blankly.

“Now wait a minute–” Yolanda starts.

“I’m a democrat honey,” the woman says, and they both start laughing. 

“You scared me,” says Yolanda. 

Pretty soon it’s time to drive back to headquarters for lunch. 



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