Can the Hotel Workers Union save the Democrats?

“It doesn’t work when our members knock on doors and start talking about the candidates,” says Gwen Mills, secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE, the hotel workers’ union.

It’s not that hard to understand. The people who answer those doors — especially in Las Vegas, which has seen more political advertising on TV and social media this year than perhaps any other city — are fed up with the incessant and unavoidable talk about candidates. . If walkers around the precinct show up saying they’ve come to talk about a worthy job seeker, they’re almost certain to be greeted with a look of horror and a door that closes, if not slams shut.

UNITE HERE members get it; they followed the path. In 2020, when COVID forced most campaigns to forgo soliciting and rely on phones to raise voter awareness, UNITE HERE had already designed special protective equipment and protocols for its members who had to continue to work in hotels. Donning that gear and observing those protocols, they walked more precincts than any other organization on the Democratic side of the ledger that year. Speaking to more than a million voters in Vegas, Reno, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Atlanta, they played a key role in Joe Biden’s victory and the Democrats’ takeover of the Senate.

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This year they have even more members knocking on doors than two years ago. And by listening to people on their doorsteps, they concluded long before most Democratic campaigns that they needed to talk about people’s biggest concern: the soaring cost of living.

In Las Vegas, what is skyrocketing above all else are rents, which have risen 28% in Clark County (i.e. metropolis Vegas) and 35% in the North of Las Vegas, home to disproportionately this year’s leading swing constituency, working-class Latinos, as well as many of UNITE HERE’s 50,000 local Vegas chapter members. Earlier this year, the local garnered enough signatures to put an initiative on the North Las Vegas ballot that would have limited rent increases in the city to the rate of headline inflation. But the city council, in an unsurprising show of concern for Vegas realtors, found a reason to eliminate him from the ballot.

Unfazed and prescient, the local’s door knockers now start all their meetings by talking to voters about soaring rents and asking if they’d like to sign a petition to the legislature to create a nationwide rent control. ‘State. If voters say yes, only then can canvassers tell them that Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak support the proposal, while their respective Republican opponents — Adam Laxalt for Senate and Joe Lombardo for Governor — oppose it. .

ThisI suggest to you, is a model of how Pro-Democrat canvassers should interact with swing voters in the final days of campaigns this fall.

“People talked about the price of food, gas and rent,” says D. Taylor, UNITE HERE’s international president. Until recently, he adds, Democrats were not. “We started this in March; we could see private equity buying homes and raising rents, which sometimes increased by $500 in a single month. A single mother in a two-bedroom apartment would have to give it up and move in with another single mother in a two-bedroom apartment.

It’s a model of how Pro-Democrat canvassers should interact with swing voters in the final days of campaigns this fall.

“We have been at the gates of Las Vegas and Philadelphia since March; we shape our campaigns around what these people tell us,” says Mills, who oversees the union’s election activities. “Our contact rate [having people actually talk with the canvassers instead of slamming the door] and the positive response increases when we start talking about issues that concern them: housing in Vegas, crime in Philadelphia. So you can have a conversation. We have seen a double digit improvement in our contact rate when we start talking about these issues. »

When it comes to crime, “we don’t have a panacea,” Taylor admits. Mills adds, “People know there are no easy answers. But they want to be heard, they want to be recognized. We do, we recognize the difficulties they face. In Philadelphia, canvassers also point out that Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano wants to make it easier to carry guns, something his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, opposes.

For UNITE HERE, putting several hundred of its members in the field full-time is something of a double-deal: not only do they affect the course of public policy, but they constitute a cadre of members experienced in persuading, motivating and mobilization. people who need a bit of context and a nudge to take action. According to the union, the walkers of today will be the workplace organizers of tomorrow. “This training is built into everything we do every day,” says Mills.

By regularly walking around precincts and listening to voters on what they want and fear most, UNITE HERE has been able to craft a bread-and-butter message that pits Democrats against Republicans, long before the Democrats themselves are only beginning to craft and revise their message. It is only in the final days of the campaign that Democrats draw major contrasts on issues such as corporate profits, the minimum wage and Social Security.

Taylor and Mills are apostles of the kind of regular contact with voters that once informed Democratic strategy. Tammany’s neighborhood hooker mystique is part history and part myth, but it points in a direction that Mills says the party should take. “That infrastructure built the Democratic Party,” she says, “and we need to rebuild it.”

The union isn’t waiting for the party to come. As of last week, its members had contacted 700,000 Nevadans, 500,000 Philadelphians and 250,000 Arizonans, making it the largest land operation in those three states, Mills said. “If the races in those states are winnable,” adds Mills, “we’ll push them over the top.”

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