April 4, 2008 Volume 109 Number 7

Working America expands in Oregon

Six nights a week between now and November, a crew of 20 or more paid canvassers will be knocking on doors in Oregon to extend the political reach of the union movement.

The canvassers are signing people up as members of Working America, a five-year-old “community affiliate” of the AFL-CIO. Oregon is one of 10 states where Working America has an active presence. Nationally, the non-partisan group claims over 2 million members.

By the end of March, the three-year-old Oregon chapter counted 52,000 members. That number is growing by 2,000 a week, said Working America organizer Graham Trainor. And the goal is 100,000 by Labor Day. Oregon has one of the strongest chapters, in part, because local affiliates of the Oregon AFL-CIO have chipped in to help fund the canvass.

Working America was started as a way for people who don’t have a union in their workplace but who sympathize with the economic fairness political agenda of the union movement. Dues are optional. There are no meetings. Members receive political communications from the group six to 35 times a year via e-mail, phone, or infrequently, by mail. Trainor said after a two- to five- minute conversation with canvassers, two-thirds of the people they talk to agree to sign up, and about one in 10 of those make some contribution. Canvassers don’t knock on the doors of AFL-CIO-affiliated union members.

People can also join via the group’s Web site: www.workingamerica.org.

So far, the canvass has focused on swing districts where voters can have the most impact. This year, that means Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, where the resignation of Democrat Darlene Hooley (a member of Working America) means the race to replace her will be a competitive one.

Trainor said the group expects to try to increase member participation as it matures. For now, though, it’s a way for the Oregon AFL-CIO to reach out directly to a larger public with political messages focused on issues like health care, education, retirement security and outsourcing of jobs.


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