Courtesy of Reed Miller

Union members in the Elm City are campaigning for a Biden victory at both a state and national level.

Locally, several unions have run phonebanking sessions to elect politicians that support working-class people in both the Connecticut legislative and presidential races. These efforts are a part of the “Take Back 2020” campaign by UNITE HERE, a nationwide labor union in the United States and Canada. The “Take Back 2020” campaign claims on its website that President Donald Trump has failed to “protect our union health insurance, implement immigration reform, stand up to sexual harassment, and … dismantle the scourge of systemic racism.”

In cooperation with New Haven Rising, the union’s New Haven Local has also sent New Haven residents to do door-to-door campaigning in swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona.

“We need leadership where the government is actually supporting workers through this time instead of just letting people figure it out and starve on their own,” said Ian Dunn, a spokesman for Locals 35, 34, 33 and 217 UNITE HERE. “Everything from labor law to basic human rights to the minimum wage to workplace safety rules is at stake.”

Dunn told the News in a phone interview that canvassers in the swing states and in New Haven will meet over Zoom on Tuesday afternoon for a press conference to explain why voting in this year’s election is crucial to working-class people. While Elm City residents cannot go door to door due to state-mandated pandemic restrictions, around 500 of them signed up for phonebanking sessions throughout the election season aimed at flipping Florida, Nevada and Arizona blue. Dunn said the number of phonebankers represents a significant increase when compared to other election years.

According to the “Take Back 2020” website, 98 percent of UNITE HERE’s members were laid off at the peak of the pandemic. Dunn said that Local 217— which represents hotel and food service workers, including employees at the Omni Hotel — has suffered from a substantially slower recovery than other unions, with about 85 percent of members still unemployed.

According to Dunn, UNITE HERE and New Haven Rising — a community organization focused on achieving economic, racial and social justice through collective action — also sent about 75 New Haveners to Florida and Philadelphia for door-to-door campaigning. They made a similar effort in 2008 to campaign for Barack Obama, sending people to Virginia. Reed Miller GRD ’22 was among those who made the trek this year.

Miller is the co-president of Local 33, a labor union representing Yale graduate student employees. He traveled from New Haven to Philadelphia last Friday evening along with eight other members of Local 33. He said that he knocked on around 70 doors each day from Saturday to Monday and that in total, UNITE HERE members have knocked on over 250,000 doors. While canvassing, UNITE HERE volunteers wore masks and were required to remain at an appropriate distance from homeowners.

“Almost everyone we’ve talked to would like to see Biden in office, but some of them don’t have a sense that their vote will make a difference,” said Miller. “We want to make sure that they understand that this election is close and that everyone’s vote really will have an impact.”

Miller also pointed out that over 90 Local 33 members have been taking part in UNITE HERE’s phonebanking sessions, in which members call registered voters in swing states. He said that each phonebanking shift lasts for around three hours, and the number of people union members talk to per session varies from 20 to 50.

Miller said that while some of the graduate students initially found it uncomfortable to make phone calls to strangers, they recognized that the alternative is four more years under the Trump administration. For Local 33 in particular, that could mean greater restrictions for its international members and a more hostile national political climate for its members who are people of color, immigrants, women and LGTBQ.

“Grad students have a lot of stake in this election,” said Miller. “We know Biden is going to be much better for working people in supporting labor unions as opposed to the Trump administration, which tries to undermine labor unions.”

Local 33 and its predecessor, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, have tried for over 25 years to convince Yale to recognize their union. Yale refused to accept the eight academic departments that voted to be in Local 33 after their election in February 2016. Instead, the University filed a petition for review of Local 33 with the National Labor Relations Board. Miller said the Trump administration’s tendency to side with management rather than workers on NLRB decisions has enabled Yale to ignore their requests for representation.

“One thing that we’re hoping with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in office is that the hundreds of graduate students workers we have been talking to in recent months will have the opportunity to have a union,” said Miller. “[Yale] won’t be able to hide behind the Trump administration.”

University spokesperson Karen Peart defended Yale’s actions in a statement to the News.

“The University has steadfastly maintained that Local 33’s micro-unit strategy was inappropriate and that the departmental elections were undemocratic,” Peart said. “Yale remains deeply committed to graduate student education, and to providing its teaching fellows with the mentorship and training necessary to complete their degrees and go on to rewarding careers.”

Despite graduate student involvement, Dunn emphasized that the majority of members making the effort to secure a Biden victory are often those facing unemployment as a result of the federal government’s poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

“[Many] Black and brown [people], women and immigrants who are hotel housekeepers and food service workers have, while being unemployed, turned out millions of phone calls, knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors and said we need a better future for our country,” said Dunn. “That’s the story that actually matters here.”

According to UNITE HERE’s website, they are the fastest-growing private sector union in the United States.

Natalie Kainz |