Each Saturday until Election Day on November 4th SEIU members in communities all across the state are giving a few hours of their time to help change Pennsylvania. The volunteers are knocking on doors and talking with voters about why Democrat Tom Wolf should be the next Governor of Pennsylvania.
Recruiting that army of volunteers is the work of six SEIU Member Political Organizers: Alana Bennett, Teddy Daniels and Denise Stroman in Philadelphia, Christine Anderson and Angela Kemper in Pittsburgh and Karmella Sams with the Local 668 Building Power Campaign.
The volunteer coordinators are part of a new pilot program for SEIU.
“We go into the shops and meet with the other members,” said Denise Stroman, a 32BJ member and cleaner
in downtown Philadelphia. “We talk about how Governor Corbett’s budget cuts have devastated our schools and why that’s harming our families and the community.”
The work that Denise and the other volunteer coordinators are doing is about more than increasing turnout for canvasses. Each conversation the volunteers have with voters is helping to change the political debate. On doorstep after doorstep, they’re talking about what really matters: quality schools, good jobs; higher wages and creating an economy where those who work hard can afford to raise a family.
That’s why Teddy Daniels tells people, “Yes WE can. We can get a lot done if we work together. That’s true at SEIU and everyone else.”
Teddy was one of the 3,000 32BJ school district workers who got layoff notices and made deep sacrifices in order to keep the schools open. As a cleaner, he sees firsthand how Corbett’s choice to slash education funding to pay for massive tax breaks for wealthy corporations is harming students and the community.
“The classrooms are so overcrowded that the kids aren’t getting the education they deserve, especially those needing extra help. And there’s not enough school nurses for all the kids who are sick. It’s not acceptable. No one should accept what’s happening in our schools.”
Across the state in Pittsburgh, the frustration over Corbett’s cuts is just as strong.
It’s what convinced Angela Kemper, a 32BJ member and a food service worker in downtown Pittsburgh, to join her union’s efforts to help elect Tom Wolf. She says increasing voter turnout in a non-Presidential year is the key to victory.
“When I go to the work sites to recruit volunteers for the canvasses, I tell them that we can’t just vote for the President. It’s the City Council, the Mayor, the State Legislators and the Governor who all make the biggest decisions that affect our jobs and our lives.”
Angela says meeting Tom Wolf gives her even more confidence that he’s the best person for the job.
“He’s very humble. He told us that politics is very new to him and that he doesn’t have all the answers, but he wanted to get involved and try to help fix the state.”
Christine Anderson has been active in campaigns before, but this is her first leadership role. The nursing home worker and HCPA member is worried about the schools as well.
“I remember when I was growing up, people wanted to live in Penn Hills because the schools were great,” Christine says. “But after Corbett took the money from our education, it’s not the same. The classrooms are too crowded and there’s not enough supplies. The schools were better before Tom Corbett was Governor.”
Back in Philadelphia, Alana Bennett, another nursing home worker and HCPA member, says before joining SEIU she didn’t pay attention to politics. Now she’s learned that if we want to pass good laws then we have to elect the candidates who stand with us.
“That’s why I like being a volunteer coordinator. Not only can I make a difference, but I’m helping other members learn why they should get involved and together we’re all building power to fight for other issues in the future, such as a law setting safe patient to staff ratio, which is important to me and my union.”
Fighting for change in the state Capitol rather than at the ballot box is what motivates volunteer coordinator Karmella Sams of SEIU Local 668. Most county and state workers are prohibited by federal law from campaigning or supporting a candidate so Karmella and other public sector workers are working on important issues. She recruits and prepares members to meet with legislators, plan events, hold phone banks and create letter writing drives that focus on policies, such as raising the minimum wage.
“We’re building something powerful with this volunteer program,” Karmella says. “It gives the members a better understanding of the issues and we’re developing stronger relationships with our legislators, which could make a difference when they vote on a bill.”
Karmella and all of the volunteer coordinators say they’re extremely proud of their work to get more members involved in their union and to build power.
“What we’re doing – helping to elect Tom Wolf and other candidates who stand with working families and fighting for our issues – it’s changing lives,” Angela says. “If people would come out here once, I guarantee they’d love it.”