For immediate release
January 6, 2021
The Democrats’ “secret weapon” to help win the Senate: UNITE HERE’s 1,000 union canvassers
Hitting an astounding 1.5 million doors — laid-off hospitality workers joined the Georgia team that turned Georgia blue to help deliver come-from-behind wins in Georgia Senate races
ATLANTA—Today hospitality workers with UNITE HERE join Democrats in Georgia and nationwide to celebrate a definitive win for Rev. Raphael Warnock and a promising lead for Jon Ossoff in the Georgia Senate run-off races. UNITE HERE—a union of hospitality workers known for its impressive ground game that was key to turning Nevada and Arizona blue—credits conversations at the door for the historic gains in Georgia. UNITE HERE led a program with 1000 of its members, mostly laid-off workers hit hard by the pandemic, to reach 1.5 million doors in the six weeks leading up to Election Day in Georgia. UNITE HERE’s effort was one part of a statewide coalitional effort that in all hit an unprecedented 9 million doors.
Over 1,000 of UNITE HERE’s union housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers and airport concessions workers—who are mostly women and people of color—canvassed full-time in the Atlanta metro area and Columbus.
- UNITE HERE knocked on over 1.5 million doors as part of a larger 9 million-knock statewide effort to get out the vote for Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
- Each day, union members had 15,000 face-to-face conversations with Georgians about the runoff race.
- UNITE HERE ran the largest union field program in Georgia.
- UNITE HERE identified and made voting plans with 250,000 voters who supported the Democratic candidates.
- 76% of the voters UNITE HERE identified were Black; 87% were people of color.
A relic of Jim Crow-era policies aimed at diluting the influence of Black voters, Georgia’s runoff elections have historically favored Republicans. Democrats have struggled in previous Georgia runoffs to maintain participation among Black voters and other voters of color critical to their success. Members of UNITE HERE supercharged a program to reach those voters directly by mounting the largest door-to-door canvassing operation in its history, becoming a central figure in the multi-racial statewide effort that delivered the win for Democrats by hitting 9 million doors altogether.
In conversations with voters, UNITE HERE canvassers stressed the urgent need to take back the Senate. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers across Georgia have dealt with unprecedented job losses, a government response that has been “too little, too late,” and loss of employer-provided healthcare.
“This victory means everything to me. It means the long hours and late nights of door knocking paid off. After being laid-off I put my mortgage on hold not knowing when I would be able to get back on my feet and provide for my family, but this victory gives me hope that change is coming,” said Joyce Roberts of Atlanta, a UNITE HERE canvasser and member of UNITE HERE Local 23, who was laid off from her job as a banquet server at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta after 34 years.
After COVID-related shutdowns resulted in 98% layoff rates earlier this year, UNITE HERE hospitality workers like Joyce took to electoral politics, organizing the largest union door-to-door canvassing operation in the country for the presidential election. This effort on the ground in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida knocked on the doors of over three million voters, helped drive the unprecedented turnout of the 2020 presidential election, and made a critical difference for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. UNITE HERE quickly pivoted after the general election to join coalition partners in standing up the largest door-knocking operation in Georgia’s history.
“This is a win for working people – delivered by working people, who did the hard work day after day at the doors talking to voters directly. UNITE HERE spoke with 15,000 Georgian voters every single day to overcome the core challenge of this runoff: maintaining enthusiasm among the Democratic base and revving up voter turnout,” said UNITE HERE Secretary-Treasurer Gwen Mills. “Democrats have an opportunity to learn from this win to understand the power of organizing and the value of investing in the ground game so we can take back parts of the country long ceded to Republicans. We are taking it back one conversation at a time. Our members in Georgia and the people we spoke with at the doors are desperate for immediate COVID relief and so much more, and I’m proud UNITE HERE could be part of making progress possible.”
“On the ballot in this election wasn’t just the relief workers need to recover. It’s been the fundamental rights of workers to organize and form unions,” said D. Taylor, President of UNITE HERE. “It’s the right of workers to come together to improve their working conditions. It’s the right of workers to go to work safely and to have one job be enough to live and live well.”
UNITE HERE Local 23 is a labor union that represents 3,000 hospitality workers at military bases, hotels and the Atlanta Airport in Georgia. Through grassroots organizing they’ve been able to raise wages and gain crucial workplace protections.
UNITE HERE has over 300,000 members working in the North American hospitality industry. Over 75% of its members are still out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, down from a peak of 98%. During the 2020 presidential election UNITE HERE ran the largest union door-to-door canvassing operation in the United States.