Conor Lamb, Democratic nominee in special election, hopes that labor will turn out the vote for him – which would be a blow for Trump
“UM-WA! UM-WA!” shout several hundred camouflage-clad United Mine Workers of America activists gathered in the back barn of the Greene county fairgrounds on Sunday night. “UM-WA, UM-WA!”
As Democrats rev up their Get Out the Vote machine for Conor Lamb, Democratic nominee for the political dynamite special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district on Tuesday, they are relying heavily on organized labor, which has over 80,000 members in the district, to turn out the vote. They are hoping that this leads to a victory in the district, which voted for Trump by a 17% margin, but still on paper at least has 70,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Running against a Republican, Rick Saccone, who favors union-busting “right-to-work” laws, organized labor is hoping that they can persuade many Trump-voting union members to rejoin the Democratic party.
Following the successful teachers’ strike in neighboring West Virginia, many union members say that there is a new sense of enthusiasm for organized labor in the coal fields. Recently returned from rallying teachers in West Virginia, United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts explains to the crowd that they have an opportunity to build on the success of West Virginia by winning the special election.
“We need to build a working class movement right here in this district!” exclaims Roberts to attendees, imploring the union cadre to get out the vote on behalf of Conor Lamb.
“He believes in us folks from the coal towns. He believes in us folks from the steel towns. He believes in us folks from the small towns,” backwoods preacher turned labor leader Roberts told the crowd. “He believes in things just like us, and we are gonna elect someone who does and believes things just like us.”
Now, like many other Democrats, Lamb is hoping that labor will turn out the vote for him. A win for Lamb would be a major blow for Trump, who was in Pennsylvania last week on the stump for Saccone.
“You have been the heart and soul,” Lamb told the crowd as he asked attendees to knock doors for him once again.
However, former federal prosecutor Lamb, who comes from Mt Lebanon, one of the richest neighborhoods in the district, has not always had such an easy relationship with organized labor.
Differing from the position of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the US which supports Medicare-for-All, Lamb says that single-payer healthcare system hasn’t proven to be effective and prefers to focus on fixing the Affordable Care Act.
On immigration, Lamb is running in a district that is 95% white yet refuses to support the AFL-CIO’s position that Congress pass a Dream Act without tying it to funding for more immigration officers and border security. Instead, the former prosecutor supports a vague “pathway to citizenship” while calling for increasing Ice’s budget to patrol the border.
In February, Lamb even came out against setting the minimum wage at $15 an hour, saying during a CBS Pittsburgh debate that instead he preferred a $10 minimum wage.
“I think $15 sounds high based on what I’ve been told by many small business owners in our area,” said Lamb. “I would rather see something that was agreed on by both sides.”
However, as labor flexes its muscles in a desperate bid to win the PA-18 special election, none of those tensions are on display.
“You elect this man to Congress and you won’t have to lobby him for one minute. He’s for your union, he’s for your pension, and he’s for your health care,” Roberts told the crowd to loud applause.
In spite of that applause, union veterans in attendance said that while they may be excited about defeating Rick Saccone, they aren’t naive, either.
In the back of the room wearing a United Mine Workers sweater and carrying a large American flag retired coal miner Dave Thearle said that he will vote for Lamb and encourage his friends to do so, but as with any politician, he remains cautious.
“I think you gotta be cautious with all politicians, you know,” said Thearle. “I’m 66 years old, I’ve seen ones get in, they promise you something – then they get in and do something else so we’ll what happens. I just hope he follows through on the things he talks about.”