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Westmoreland labor activists to plot election strategy

July 24, 2018 GMT

With slightly more than 100 days remaining before the November mid-term elections, Westmoreland County labor union activists plan to meet Wednesday to plot strategy with hopes of getting more union-friendly Democrats elected.

President Trump drubbed Hillary Clinton in the county in the 2016 presidential election.

“We’re going to talk some strategy on what unions and activists in Westmoreland (County) can do to get the endorsed candidates elected this year,” said Harriet Ellenberger, secretary of the the Greater Westmoreland County Labor Council. The labor group is sponsoring a “Kitchen Table Conversation,” which will be held at Ellenberger’s Mt. Pleasant Township residence from 6 to 8 p.m.

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“We want to get some energy going” prior to Labor Day, the traditional start date for November election activity, Ellenberger said.

“The Kitchen Table Conversations are geared to engage with our activists and leaders on the issues,” said Rosann Barker, office manager for the Northwestern Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation, which is based in Erie.

The Westmoreland labor council endorsed only Democrats, from Gov. Tom Wolf on down the ticket to those running for U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and the state House. Yet, state Reps. Joseph Petrarca of Vandergrift and Frank Dermody of Oakmont are the only state House Democrats among the eight representatives whose districts include part of Westmoreland County.

Ellenberger said she believes there is more interest surrounding the mid-term elections than in 2014, when Democrat Barack Obama occupied the White House.

“I think we are seeing more enthusiasm around our candidates and more urgency” to get them elected, Ellenberger said.

To that end, “the unions will have to work diligently to get out the vote,” said Gerald R. Shuster, professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

In 2014, when then-Gov. Tom Corbett lost his bid for re-election to Wolf, voter turnout in the county was 45 percent.

There is good reason for increased union involvement , particularly since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus case, which gives public sector workers the right to refuse to pay union dues if they do not want to join a union, Shuster said.

“That will dramatically affect unions,” Shuster said.

Furthermore, some of President Trump’s directives have impacted labor standards in a way that is affecting industries where union strength is apparent, Shuster said.

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“All of those factors coming together will result in more (political) activity” by unions, Shuster said. “The unions know they got to focus on a candidate that they get 100 percent support from.”

The Westmoreland labor organization, part of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, is in line with other labor councils in the state that have either already conducted such meetings, like the Butler labor council, or are planning them, like the Indiana-Armstrong labor council, which will meet Thursday, Barker said. The labor council in Erie and Crawford counties will meet Saturday.

“We will develop strategies with the various locals on the best way to work together as we outreach to the broader labor movement and engage in conversation with union members on these issues,” Barker said.

For more information about the event, Ellenberger can be contacted at ellenberger@zoominternet.net.

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