November/December 2020 Issue
October 18, 2020

Union coalition targets retirees to get out the vote

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: The Coalition of Retired Educators Living in Florida is a group of Florida unionists focused on getting out the vote in the important swing state. NYSUT Florida retirees are coalition members. Bottom row, left to right: Meghan Rozarie, Janice Poirier, Deb Peterson and Lynne Winderbaum. Top Row: Stewart Cohen, Christine Rowland, Andrew Spar, Felicia Bruce, Renita Bates, Todd Crenshaw, Chris Mattingly and Florence McCue. FILE PHOTO.

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Those are words to live by, as far as Felicia Bruce, Retiree Council 43 president (NYSUT Teacher Retirees in Florida), is concerned.

That’s why she’s working in partnership with the Coalition of Retired Educators Living in Florida to ensure that sunshine state retirees cast their ballots in the upcoming general election.

The brainchild of Florence McCue, at-large ED 51-53 director, CORELIF has a simple goal — uniting Florida union groups, both ahead of the 2020 general election and beyond.

“Everyone was doing their own thing in Florida, and I knew that if we got organized and worked together, we could be more effective politically,” said McCue who launched the group last summer, with help from the American Federation of Teachers.

“This is a great program, and I’m thrilled that Florence took the initiative to get it started,” said NYSUT Second Vice President Ron Gross, whose office handles retiree issues.

“Florida is an important swing state and NYSUT retirees, our ‘daytime army,’ are one of our most effective political weapons.”

McCue explained that when it came to political activism, even NYSUT’s Florida retirees were lone wolves. The United Federation of Teachers/Retired Teachers Chapter — Florida Section, led by Ken Goodfriend, and RC 43 members usually handled member outreach independently.

After recruiting NYSUT retirees to the group, McCue invited in-service and retiree activists from the Florida Education Association; the National Education Association; and the Florida AFL-CIO to join the coalition.

McCue hosts biweekly Zoom checkins to track progress.

CORELIF’s first task was cultivating member relationships. Partner groups phone banked, encouraging retirees to vote by mail in Florida’s August primary and, with COVID–19 widespread, making wellness checks. “We wanted to make sure we had a connection before the November election,” said McCue, explaining that each group reached out to its own members with a unified message. “The union is here for you and we’re all in this together.”

“It’s fabulous that we’re working together,” said Lynne Winderbaum, Tampa Bay coordinator for the UFT/RTC—FS.

Using some 40 volunteers, the group has called thousands of voters — UFT/RTC-FS members and others in their households.

To ensure that those who’ve requested ballots return them, they’re using the AFL-CIO’s Labor Action Network which updates members’ voting histories every few days. “We’ll do a final round of calls in the last few days before the election to anyone who hasn’t voted yet,” said Winderbaum.

“We’re doing a vote-by-mail push, highlighting that it’s safe and reliable and encouraging folks to do it early so their vote is counted,” said Bruce, noting that RC 43 also uses the LAN to track ballot returns. She uses her extensive retiree contacts to share CORELIF’s mobilization message and recruit phone bank volunteers.

In addition to heading RC 43, she’s a director for Florida Retired Educators Association; president of the Treasure Coast Florida Alliance for Retired Americans; and a member of the Florida Educators Association Retired, the FEA’s retiree organization.

“I’ve heard a lot of Trump voters say ‘never again’ … his erratic behavior, mismanagement of the coronavirus and attacks on Social Security,” Bruce said of her meetings with retirees. “He’s hurt them, and they know it.”

NYSUT’s powerful network of retiree activists in New York State also lent the coalition a hand. When FEA President Andrew Spar needed help contacting in-service and retired AFLCIO Florida members who requested absentee ballots, McCue recruited Long Island, Westchester and UFT retirees to phone bank.

“Inservice members are being pulled in so many directions … retirees have to step up and take the yeoman’s share of political action,” said McCue. “We’re determined to take Florida over the top.”