Major Essential Worker Rallies to Hit Ten Cities to Get Infrequent Voters of Color to Vote

One of the most influential labor unions in the country is launching a robust get out the vote effort focused on essential workers across 10 major cities on Saturday, just 10 days before Election Day, as part of a prolonged effort to target infrequent voters of color, Newsweek has learned.

The two million-member Service Employees International Union's (SEIU) "My Vote Is Essential" day of action will include nursing home workers in Chicago voting early "to honor their fellow frontline workers who have died from the COVID" and holding the Trump administration accountable for pandemic mismanagement.

In Detroit, it's fast-food workers advocating for a $15 minimum wage who will lead a rally and march to an early voting site, and in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, nurses and nursing home workers will rally at early vote locations. Additional marches and rallies will be held in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as well as Miami, Tampa and Orlando, where the rapper Common will join essential workers.

Senator Cory Booker, who will headline a tele-townhall and phone bank kickoff, told Newsweek that for years the right to vote for millions of Americans, "disproportionately in communities of color—has been under assault."

"We all stand on the shoulders of those who fought courageously for the fundamental right to vote, and as we face one of the most consequential elections of our lifetimes, I applaud our brothers and sisters at SEIU for their efforts to honor this legacy and continue this work by engaging voters and making sure folks across our nation exercise their right to vote," he said.

The events are timed to coincide with national Vote Early Day and are part of the labor union's "final sprint" to November 3, with $5 million in paid media across television, radio and digital hitting states including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, along with a message urging voters to send their ballots early by mail or at a drop-off location.

SEIU told Newsweek the events across the country on October 24 will be a continuation of their early vote push, which included a Todos Con Biden event on Wednesday in partnership with groups on the ground in Florida aimed at Latinos, which featured 2,000 cars, and a yard sign delivery campaign in Detroit, with workers dancing and having fun as they dropped the signs off at voters' houses.

The relentless focus on infrequent voters is an effort to "get past the disillusionment," SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told Newsweek.

"We're still hearing 'It doesn't matter,'" Henry said.

But early vote data the union is monitoring suggests to them that they're finding success in motivating even the most infrequent voters to go to the polls.

Internal analysis based on voting records, and shared with Newsweek, shows that as of Wednesday morning, 1,155,000 people who did not vote in 2016 had already voted in Florida, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. That number means one in five voters who have voted so far nationally did not vote four years ago, with a split of 69% leaning Democrat, and 31% leaning Republican.

While the numbers are early, they include 262,226 of the types of infrequent voters the union is desperate to mobilize: Black and Latino voters who did not vote in 2016, but have already cast their ballot in the five battleground states.

Laura Rivas, a 44-year-old registered nurse from Miami who works in the medical intensive care unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital, is the type of essential worker the union is working with and trying to mobilize. The Cuban-American said she is "outnumbered" by her conservative family who mostly votes Republican, and family conversations about politics usually turn into "all-out ambushes" on her.

But she said sharing her harrowing experience as a critical care nurse in the COVID unit is important to share with Americans on the fence about voting, as she did during a recent roundtable discussion with Dr. Jill Biden and other essential workers.

"I was the one there with a family member, holding their hand and providing care when nobody wanted to face this COVID disease," Rivas told Newsweek.

She pointed to Joe Biden's call for a mask mandate, and proper PPE at hospitals, as important steps a "unifying" leader can take as president.

"We still need to take care of these people," Rivas said. "I saw a lot of loss. It was hard on me emotionally because I saw the worst cases."

Albert Morales, the senior political director for the Latino Decisions polling firm, called the early voting data good for Democrats, citing the higher number of young voters coming out now as opposed to 2016 as promising, but he said it's far too early to draw conclusions from the numbers.

Still, he noted infrequent voters are the holy grail.

"Candidates and campaigns are never successful at getting infrequent voters to vote, and now they're coming out of the woodwork," Morales said. "What does that tell you?"

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Members of the 32BJ union hold up signs spelling out "Essential Workers" during a "Strike for Black Lives" rally on July 20, 2020 in New York City.The SEIU union held a socially distanced rally and press event demanding passage of the HEROES Act and calling out 121 days without essential pay. Michael M. Santiago/Getty