Labor plays big role in winning Georgia Senate seat

In a runoff election in Georgia on Dec. 6, Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker for the U.S. Senate. Nearly 1.85 million Georgians voted early, bringing the total vote count to 3.45 million, with more than 98,000 Georgia union members voting early, tipping the balance in favor of Warnock. Like AFT members, Warnock believes in public services that provide what kids and communities need.

Randi Weingarten and union members in Atlanta
AFT President Randi Weingarten meets with UNITE HERE members in Atlanta.

The AFT and the entire labor movement were critical in getting out the vote for Warnock’s re-election. Hundreds of union workers, including more than 50 AFT activists, fanned out across the state to knock on union members’ doors in and around Atlanta, Savannah, Athens and Augusta, finding out if they’d already voted early and, if not, urging them to vote for Warnock. Labor votes made an especially big difference in Chatham County (Savannah), Clarke County (Athens), and Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb counties (Atlanta).

Our members also linked up with members of the faith community and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, who helped with door-knocking, rallies and election protection. All these efforts came with support from Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner and Savannah Federation of Teachers/PSRP President Theresa Watson.

AFT members across the country helped too. They staffed virtual phone banks and sent more than 40,000 texts during the final push in Georgia.

AFT President Randi Weingarten traveled to Atlanta on the eve of Election Day to thank canvassers from Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania who belong to UNITE HERE, a hotel and restaurant worker union that traces its history to the early days of industrialization.

“We will win on Dec. 6 because of the hard work of knocking on doors, of talking to people, of getting people out to vote, just like teachers trying to help lift kids to the American dream, to opportunity,” Weingarten told them. “We need politicians who are there helping us help ourselves. Rev. Warnock has been with us on all the major issues: to drive down costs, to make sure that the economy works for all, and to help our kids. What you're also doing is reconnecting community with each other, reconnecting people with each other. That is righteous work.” 

On the weekend before Election Day, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram visited with Warnock, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, churchgoers from at least half a dozen congregations, and union volunteers. He said it was good to see union members helping get out the vote one more time—after a special election and runoff two years ago, plus this year’s midterms. Ingram called the masses of voters gathered at rallies and churches “a beautiful sea of working people and leaders” who are making a difference in their communities.

Warnock not only stands with the AFT on the issues we care about, but like us he aspires to provide what kids and communities need. And like us, he chooses hope and aspiration over fear and division.

“Justice is what love looks like in public,” he told voters during the home stretch of his campaign. “Equity is what love looks like in public. Access and opportunity is what love looks like in public.”

Caring, showing up and voting

In Savannah, AFT activists canvassed by day and joined members of the central labor council one evening to help wrap holiday gifts for children in need.

New York members Darlene Fegatilli and Nina Tribble
New York members Darlene Fegatilli, left, and Nina Tribble knocked on doors in Savannah.

Members from across New York state joined Savannah Federation of Teachers/PSRP members like Vickie O’Donnell and her mother Sandra Crewe in wrapping gifts from each child’s wish list of three items. Together with postal workers, machinists and electrical workers, they packed up boxes for families.

Savannah’s teachers and PSRPs have been contributing to these holiday gifts for more than a decade, but this year there’s a new twist, explained the SFT’s Watson. Before, the gifts would arrive in a truck with Santa. This year, presents will be loaded onto a plane at nearby Hunter Army Airfield, which will take off, loop around and then land to deliver the children’s toys and clothes. In addition, each family will receive a $100 grocery store gift card to help them celebrate the season.

Voting for democracy

The Georgia runoff completed this year’s midterm elections, which were predicted to be a disaster for Democrats but instead saw them pick up a seat in the Senate and nearly hold the House. In her monthly column, Weingarten writes that many people told her the elections came down to a choice between extremists stoking fear and problem-solvers working to help move the country forward.

Raphael Warnock with supporters

Warnock is one of those problem-solvers. In his first two years as a U.S. senator who works in a bipartisan way, Warnock already has successfully negotiated investments for Georgia businesses to grow jobs in-state and end their reliance on foreign countries like China; helped cap the cost of insulin for seniors to $35 a month; fought to keep open a military training center in Savannah; and taken on shipping companies and big corporations that are making record profits by jacking up prices for consumers.

Warnock thanked the voters in his victory speech and vowed to continue solving problems. “I’m ready to keep doing this work,” he said. “I can hear my dad, of blessed memory, say, ‘Get up, get dressed, put your shoes on, get ready.’ Are you ready, Georgia? I’m ready to stand up for workers, to stand up for women, to stand up for our children.”

[Annette Licitra]