Across Florida, 27 caregivers—1199SEIU members--have taken temporary paid leave from their jobs in nursing homes and hospitals to work full time to elect candidates who will stand up for quality care and restoring the middle class. Since June, these caregivers have:
• Knocked on about 30,000 doors and spoken to about 10,000 neighbors to urge them to vote for candidates who will create good jobs, support the rights of workers and stand up for quality, affordable healthcare;
• Signed up more than 200 new contributors to 1199’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Political Action Fund to amplify working people’s voices;
• Recruited almost 400 members to volunteer to phone bank, knock on doors, write letters and do whatever it takes to elect candidates who share their priorities as working people.
Working as a member political organizer is not glamorous. It often involves long hours in the hot sun, six to seven day work weeks, frank conversations with co-workers and strangers about politics, scary dog encounters while canvassing neighborhoods and asking many people for money during tough economic times.
Yet, despite the obstacles, 1199SEIU members always find a way to see through the difficulties in order to make the power of the union and the power of being united work for us on local and national levels.
Venda Howard, a CAN at Titusville Health and Rehab is a new 199SEIU Florida Member Political Organizer who is making the power of being united work for us all. We asked her about her experience:
Q: You’ve been very successful in getting members to increase their donations to Political Action or to start contributing. How do you do it?
A: Getting members to give to Political Action can be hard, but what works best for me is to make the conversation personal. I let them come to me. I let the workers ask questions. I can’t walk into a break room and start talking politics. I let them know I am a CNA and I work in a nursing home. When they begin to talk about cancellations, you have to feel what they feel. I say, ‘I’ve been getting cancelled in mine, too.’ I talk about what they’re talking about and enter into their conversation after I listen. Soon, someone in the break room will hear you talking and say something that relates to the Political Action Fund what it means, what it does for us as working people and as caregivers.
Q: What are the questions people ask that you redirect into a topic about politics?
A: When we have the pens and shirts on, they ask, ‘Can I get one of them?’ I say, ‘Sure you can. But, do you know how we get these pens? We have to buy these to help get the message out. This is one of the ways that we put our dues to work. You know the assemblies we have? Our dues pay for those. PAC is separate from our dues. We give to PAC because it pays for our transportation to go visit legislators, support our president, pay for resources and literature.’
That’s why we have to be personal. Sometimes they talk about family. There is always something in that conversation you can pull from. You have to let them ask because they are on their lunch break and already aggravated because they only have 30 minutes to eat and rest.
I’ve learned if something has happened on the floor, don’t ask for a contribution then. A few weeks ago, a worker was crying. Something had happened. Someone had died. The whole break room tried to console her, and I didn’t say anything about Political Action. That’s why you have to watch your surroundings and pay attention; you can’t light in and ask for a contribution. But, when the 3-11 shift came in, then I asked talked about the Political Action Fund because the mood was lighter. You have to watch and listen. Every day is not a day to ask for contributions. You have to get them very comfortable.
Q: When you go to a new facility, what do you look for before you start talking to caregivers about politics?
A: One facility I visited hardly had any leaders so the workers didn’t talk to me the first few times I visited.. At those visits they were talking about slot machines and I started talking about that, too. They knew what I was there for, but I didn’t mention anything. I went in yesterday and they wanted to talk. They asked me, ‘You want us to sign these pledge cards now?’
I watch the atmosphere. I watch the workers; see what they are talking about. We have been in these buildings three or four times. You just put your stuff on the table and you don’t want to aggravate them at all. You want them to feel comfortable not taking up their lunch break. Let them come to you. They will.