Labor Helped Newsom Beat Back Recall. Now They Expect Him to Show Up for Them

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Protesters hold up a sign that reads, "Medicare for All! Defeat the Recall! Healthy California Now."
Activists, including those from the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), demonstrate in Sacramento on June 15, 2021, to push Gov. Gavin Newsom to enact single-payer health care and defend him from the Republican-driven recall campaign. "I expect him to lead on California accomplishing single-payer and being an example for the rest of the country," said Sal Rosselli, president of NUHW. (Angela Hart/California Healthline)

Labor unions put a massive effort into helping Gov. Gavin Newsom defeat the recent recall attempt against him. Labor-sponsored get-out-the-vote campaigns rallied tens of thousands of volunteers to make millions of phone calls and texts and knock on hundreds of thousands of doors throughout the state.

The California Labor Federation’s spokesperson Steve Smith said it was one of the largest such efforts in the state’s history. And, he said, unions now expect to see their hard work pay off.

"We've got a lot of work to do on COVID protections, on restoring our economy, on tackling income inequality," Smith said. " And we expect big things to happen over the course of the next several years on those issues and others.”

Smith says the Labor Federation's legislative agenda isn't set for next year yet. But he said they want the governor to support efforts to raise worker pay, improve protections for gig workers and lessen income inequality.

Still, Smith said labor’s primary motivation was preventing a Republican from winning the governor’s office. Unions were especially worried about Larry Elder, a right-wing radio host who led with voters among candidates seeking to replace Newsom.

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"We've made a lot of progress, not just under Governor Newsom, but for the last couple of decades on workers' rights," Smith said. "We're a national leader on workers' rights and that was under threat with this recall. Any one of those Republicans, especially Larry Elder, would have taken us in the wrong direction at light speed."

Max Arias, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Local 99, said the defeat of the recall was a huge victory for working people — one they hope to build on.

“Thousands and thousands of volunteers and members didn’t turn out because they have a specific expectation of the governor," Arias said. "They turned out because that is exactly how we build power. And we expect and hope that the governor will continue to work in partnership with working people.”

The union turnout came at a crucial time for Newsom. A late July poll showed the governor barely beating the recall, largely due to Democrats being unengaged in the election. The Labor Federation's Smith said the union's get out the vote campaign was able to mobilize quickly to turn out their voters.

"It was undertaken over the course of, really, eight weeks that we had from the time the program ramped up to Election Day," Smith said. 

Overall, union members made over 31 million phone calls to potential voters and knocked on 1.5 million doors. The SEIU alone spent $6 million fighting the recall. The union said it was focused on turning out communities of color. According to the Political Data Inc. election tracker, total voter turnout so far is about 44%. Turnout stands at 40% for for Latino voters, 43% for Asian voters and 40% for African American voters.