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Labor union SEIU unveils $150-million campaign to help defeat Trump

President Trump
The Service Employees International Union’s campaign to defeat President Trump is focused on eight battleground states and voters of color who typically don’t vote.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

One of the nation’s largest labor unions is unveiling plans to invest $150 million in a nationwide campaign to help defeat President Trump, a sweeping effort focused on eight battleground states and voters of color who typically don’t vote.

The investment marks the largest voter engagement and turnout operation in the history of the Service Employees International Union, which claims nearly 2 million members. The scope of the campaign, which quietly launched last month and will run through November’s general election, reflects the urgency of what union President Mary Kay Henry calls “a make-or-break” moment for working people in America under Trump’s leadership.

“He’s systematically unwinding and attacking unions. Federal workers’ rights have been totally eviscerated under his watch,” Henry said in an interview. “We are on fire about the rules being rigged against us and needing to elect people that are going to stand with workers.”

The union’s campaign will span 40 states and target 6 million voters focused largely in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to details of the plan shared with the Associated Press. The union and its local members will pay particular attention to two key urban battlegrounds they believe will play a defining role in the 2020 general election: Detroit and Milwaukee. There may be some television advertising, but the investment will focus primarily on direct contact and online advertising targeting minority men and women who typically don’t vote.

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The union’s political director, Maria Peralta, noted that Trump’s campaign has been working effectively in recent months to win over some minority voters, particularly men, who have traditionally voted Democratic.

“He’s going after our communities in ways that are pervasive. We’re deeply aware of that,” Peralta said. “They’re talking about the strength of the economy.”

The Service Employees International Union, like the Democratic Party and its allies across the nation, faces significant headwinds in its fight to deny Trump a second term. Voters who may dislike his overall job performance are generally pleased with his leadership on the economy, and unemployment for black Americans has hit record lows in recent months.

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At the same time, Trump’s campaign is far ahead of where it was four years ago, when it had little national organization.

On Wednesday, the Trump campaign announced plans to open 15 “Black Voices for Trump Community Centers” in battleground states and major cities, including Michigan and Wisconsin. The offices will feature a line of campaign swag adopting the “woke” label, and videos of prominent Trump surrogates like online stars Diamond and Silk explaining their support for the president and pamphlets outlining the president’s record.

SEIU is the most diverse union in the United States. The union’s membership features those who work in healthcare, food service, janitorial services and state and local government workers, among others. Half its members are people of color, and more than half make less than $15 an hour.

The 2020 investment is designed to benefit Democrats up and down the ballot this fall, though defeating Trump stands as a primary goal.

That said, SEIU’s political team has determined that a message simply attacking Trump isn’t effective with its target audience, which includes a significant number of conservatives.

“We don’t want to get too caught up in the Trump bashing,” Peralta said. “Data shows people care about wages, and they care about healthcare across the board.”

The union also determined that it’s particularly effective to highlight Trump’s work to weaken labor unions and conditions for working-class Americans.


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