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Drop in Iowa union membership leads campaigns to fight harder for support

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | OCTOBER 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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Labor-union support helped propel President Obama to victory in 2008. And though one expert said union membership has recently “decreased dramatically,” local union members said they are continuing grass-roots efforts to encourage support for campaigns.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average percentage of union members in Iowa decreased from 11.4 percent in 2010 to 11.2 percent in 2011.

“As long as the union movement has been around, it’s pretty much in line with Democrats, while Republicans are more [management] friendly,” said Justin Holmes, a University of Northern Iowa political-science assistant professor. “[Democrats] have lost a huge number of union members, but they maintain the same percentage; it’s just a smaller group.”

Some unions expressed disagreement with Obama’s free-trade agreements, but the chairman of the Johnson County Democrats believes this position will not hurt Obama’s appeal to union members.

“I don’t think free-trade agreements will cut significantly into Obama’s support,” Terry Dahms said. “Unions are still supportive … and very helpful in providing the manpower to make calls and knock on doors.

According to officials, unions are focusing on the same efforts they did in 2008, especially in a battleground state such as Iowa. Those efforts include knocking on doors and encouraging members to reach out to friends and family for support.

“We have boots on the ground in every battleground state,” said Galen Munroe, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “It helps [supporters] identify with each other, and drives home the message more when someone is a union member, blue collar or breadwinner of a middle class family.”

The chairman of the Johnson County Republicans agreed that face-to-face get out the vote efforts are important, especially this year when there is “so much saturation” of political ads. He also said Republicans draw support from other groups to counter union support after not having the same level of organization in 2008.

“Face-to-Face, door-to-door type stuff is more productive than anything,” Bob Anderson said. “The state party has its efforts, and the Second Amendment people, pro-life supporters, and the Tea Party each help get out the vote.”

Anderson believes that Republicans can better reach union members due to the economy, and certain candidates such as 2nd Congressional District candidate John Archer can appeal to union members.

“Union bosses typically support Democrats, but often times you’ll find rank-and-file members are not headed where bosses are headed,” he said. “Union laborers will look at the job situation and the economy and not necessarily follow the direction of union bosses.”

One union official disagreed with this stance, saying Republican’s continual support for tax cuts undermines its candidate’s appeal to union members.

“We’ve had these tax cuts since 1980 — where are the jobs?” said Gary Dunham, principal officer with Teamsters 208.

Union officials and Republicans agree so-called grass-roots or ground efforts are necessary to help break through the huge number of political ads this year. Holmes agrees these types of efforts by campaigns have been proven to be more effective.

“No one is going to watch an ad, and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to vote now,” but if someone shows up on your doorstep, it’s been proven you’re more likely to vote,” he said.


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