WASHINGTON (AP) — Union leaders said Wednesday they will mobilize millions of members in 26 states with a message about "economic patriotism" as they try to help Democrats hold onto their majority in the House and Senate.
The nation's largest labor federation plans to spend more than $50 million leading up to the November elections, targeting 70 House races and 18 Senate races with television ads, phone banks and leaflets.
In a response to the anti-establishment anger of Tea Party activists, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called on voters to think about "economic patriots" and "corporate traitors."
"We're looking for leaders who will call out corporations that ship our good jobs overseas, leaders who will reject unfair trade deals, leaders who will fight for a middle class economy and put us on a path to make things in America again," Trumka said at a news conference.
The federation is also running a nonpolitical TV ad in major markets over the Labor Day weekend to boost the image of unions as organizations that help improve the lives of working people.
The help can't come soon enough for Democrats facing high voter frustration over a lingering recession and a tea party movement that has galvanized opposition to President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders.
Some Democrats have complained that unions wasted $10 million earlier this year in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary. Labor leaders said it was important to show Democrats they could not take union support for granted. The move was political payback for Lincoln's refusal to support a broader health reform package and a bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions.
In his pre-election comments, Trumka framed the midterm elections as a choice between working to improve the economy under Democrats and Obama or returning to the days "when Wall Street and corporations ran wild and controlled the agenda."
Among the Democratic Party's most loyal boosters, the AFL-CIO runs one of the nation's largest and most sophisticated political operations. Union volunteers have already distributed some 2 million flyers at more than 300 worksites. Over the next two months, hundreds of union activists will talk to millions of workers going door-to-door, at work sites, by phone and mail.
One edge this year for the labor movement is better coordination with unions that broke away from the federation in 2005. For the first time since the split, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union will pool resources so they can reach more voters and work more efficiently.
AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman said the combined spending with SEIU and other unaffiliated unions on congressional races would likely top $100 million.
But the federation is getting a bit of a late start this year compared to 2006, when they had their political operations humming several weeks earlier. Part of that had to do with their focus on a busy legislative agenda, including getting Congress to extend unemployment benefits and send money to cash-strapped states that would prevent layoffs for thousands of teachers and other public workers.