Joe Davidson
Joe Davidson

Federal labor activists stump for Obama

Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post - AFGE Union members J. David Cox, left, and Bob Nicklas strategize in an Arlington neighborhood as they campaign Saturday for President Obama.

Like a football team preparing for the Super Bowl, the forces mustered at the Northern Virginia Labor Federation office in Annandale.

Most wore garb showing various union affiliations, many with the letters AFGE.

Joe Davidson

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.


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Just days before this in­cred­ibly tight presidential contest declares a victor, members of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, are out campaigning for President Obama’s reelection.

More than other federal employee organizations that also support the president, AFGE members and staffers put their feet on the street to back up their endorsement of Obama in his race against Mitt Romney. The walk was part of a series of campaign efforts AFGE is doing with the AFL-CIO to get Obama and other Democrats elected.

“That’s the good part of the labor movement. We have the ground game,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said Saturday as he walked briskly through the streets of Arlington. “The Republicans don’t have labor.”

And they don’t want it, either, at least from the sound of the Romney campaign’s response to AFGE’s backing of Obama.

“It’s not surprising that liberal union bosses are supporting a tax-and-spend liberal like Barack Obama,” said Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman. “President Obama has consistently sided with union bosses over middle-class workers by championing their job-killing, big-government agenda, pushing for disastrous card-check legislation, and stacking the National Labor Relations Board with their political cronies.”

The arrival of superstorm Sandy was near as members of AFGE and other unions left the federation offices and spread out to knock on doors in Northern Virginia neighborhoods.

Some folks weren’t home — perhaps they were out getting supplies to ride out the weather. But the coming rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the unionists, who see Obama’s reelection as crucial for the nation and their personal well-being.

“I’m supporting Barack Obama, and I hope this household is too,” was Cox’s pitch to those who answered his knock. Although Obama was his focus, he handed out literature, supplied by the AFL-CIO, endorsing Democrat Tim Kaine in his Senate race against Republican George Allen.

Sometimes Cox heard what he wanted from those who answered his call to support Obama. Sometimes he didn’t.

“We’re not, but thanks anyway” was the quick but polite response to Cox from one of the first residents on 25th Street to answer his knock.

But a short time later, Arthur Strathern, an AFGE member who happened to find his national union president at his door, told Cox: “I have never voted for a Republican in my life.”

And the Obama sign in the front yard of Cindy Impala, director of education for the Teamsters, was like a welcome mat for Cox.

Making sure people like Strathern and Impala vote was the point of the walk, because Obama is going to need all the help AFGE and other unions can give, particularly in Virginia. The Republicans may not have, or want, labor, but they apparently have increasing support in the important swing state, where the race is too close to call. A Washington Post poll published Saturday showed Obama leading Romney 51 to 47 percent among likely Virginia voters, down from an eight-point margin in mid-September. Obama’s lead is two points, 49 to 47 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.

The 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision allows unions to campaign door-to-door, rather than only among union members, as previously was the case. Cox and the other labor activists, however, directed their energy only toward other union members, hitting a union household, or a few, on one street, then sometimes skipping a couple of blocks to find another union household.

“The labor movement has to get out its vote,” said Robert Nicklas, AFGE’s political action director. Labor was strong for Obama four years ago, and people such as Nicklas want to make sure it is just as strong, if not stronger, this year.

“There are about 32,000 union members in Northern Virginia,” he said. “Reaching those folks is our job. . . . It is no small task.”

AFGE has about 70 people working full time for Obama across the country, according to Nicklas. During the last 72 hours of the campaign, AFGE will deploy 30 to 40 people in Northern Virginia.

“We’re basically closing down our headquarters,” he said, “and everyone is being encouraged to walk.”

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