January 31, 2020

NYSUT COUNTS: Nassau retirees kick off 2020 with census phone banks

Author: Kara Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
phone banking for census awareness
Caption: Photo by Jonathan Fickies.

If there’s one thing Long Island retirees do exceptionally well, it’s phone bank. From encouraging members to vote no on the state Constitutional Convention, to getting out the vote in important elections, NYSUT can always count on the dedicated retiree activists of Long Island to help spread the word about important union initiatives.

In late January, nearly 50 Nassau County retirees phone banked about the 2020 census, encouraging fellow retiree members to fill out and return their census forms and highlighting NYSUT Counts, the statewide union’s campaign to get every state resident registered for the 2020 census. The event was the first weekly phone bank of 2020 at the NYSUT Nassau Regional office in Woodbury.

Since federal census forms must be submitted electronically this time, a focus was helping retirees who may be uncomfortable, or unwilling, to use online forms, explained Ken Ulric, acting president for Retiree Council 17 and president of the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers Retiree Chapter.

“We have members who won’t respond to emails and who don’t own, or won’t deal with, a computer,” he said. “While there are many reasons people might not participate in the census, we don’t want the electronic submission requirement to be one of them.”

To overcome the hurdle, callers provided over-the-phone submission assistance to those with questions about their form. “If they had their census card in hand during the call, we could walk through what they saw on their screen to help them register,” said Jeff Friedman, NYSUT’s political organizer for Long Island.

Retirees living nearby were encouraged to stop into the union office to fill out and submit their census form. After a single day of calling, the group reached nearly half the retirees in Nassau County. Later phone banks will contact retirees in localities throughout New York State. Once the census wraps up this summer, callers will help get out the vote for the November presidential election. Ulric estimates that by year’s end, callers will speak to more than 50,000 retiree members.

The secret to Long Island’s phone banking success is community. “We have fun at these things,” said Ulric, noting that many volunteers weren’t activists as in-service members but always lend a hand for phone banking. “We have a room full of people, lots of laughter, good conversation and we have lunch together.”

Contests and raffles also keep things light. For instance, if a volunteer’s name pops up on the call list they get a little prize, noted Friedman. “Our biggest competition is grandparent duty,” laughed Ulric who notes he wouldn’t want to interfere with that. “But I do tell them that what we’re doing is something that will benefit their grandchildren!”

For more information about NYSUT Counts, and to make the pledge to fill out your census form, visit NYSUTCounts.org

NYSUT Counts: Census 2020