SEIU Presidential Program: Winning for Working Families

June 19, 2013
Wellstone Action  training with SEIU
Grounded in History
Wellstone Action has a long-standing history of forging partnerships that are designed to make a difference in the lives of working Americans.
Wellstone’s Labor Training Program specifically works with union leaders, staff, and members to build stronger, grassroots leadership and create long-term plans that build the power workers need to win. And we help them build the skills of their staff, leaders, and members to run more effective electoral campaigns, including running for office.
The early roots of the Labor Program, and one of our very first trainings, was a partnership with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 2004 as part of the Heroes Presidential Program – over 2,000 SEIU members were trained to work full time on the 2004 Presidential campaign in key states across the country. Through a clear, long-term strategy for building grassroots power, Wellstone Action and SEIU have remained committed partners in building the progressive movement, resisting attacks on unions and their members and advancing a politics where the rights of workers and their families are valued and protected.
The 2012 Elections
Our long-term partnership with SEIU took an even bigger step forward in 2012.
2012 was a critical election year for all of us who care about progressive issues. After huge losses in 2010 and ever-increasing assaults on workers’ rights in Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, and elsewhere, SEIU knew that the only way to reverse this tide was to win the presidential election, reclaim majorities in state legislatures, and fund essential ballot initiative fights that would restore – or at least not further diminish – the rights of working Americans.
SEIU is a central force in the progressive movement, one with a highly diverse membership. Their long-term strategy was to launch the largest-of-its-kind, independent grassroots political operation, and use it to not only win a critical election but to create enduring leadership skills in its members for future political fights. This aggressive, coordinated effort, fueled by tens of thousands of members, was won by fully integrating grassroots organizing, leadership development, and electoral work – the core elements of the Wellstone Triangle – and Wellstone’s Labor Program would become the key to SEIU’s success.
Wellstone + SEIU = Change
Wellstone Action designed an ambitious program for SEIU members and staff that involved multiple layers of training and technical support. From guiding state coordinators to run SEIU’s state-based programs, to offering skills training for member activists, to designing and implementing a train-the-trainer model that created a cadre of highly skilled SEIU staff who could move this training to the necessary scale for national success, to activating a successful Get Out The Vote endeavor, Wellstone Action is winning back a country where workers matter.
The first in this series was a training for the leads in 8 battleground states where SEIU members were positioned (FL, NV, OH, CO, VA, PA, WI, and NH). This five-day, fully customized training included leadership development, mentoring skills, and training on how to manage staff and provide effective feedback. During this training, participants also took part in on-the-ground campaign work by knocking doors during the Get Out the Vote for Wisconsin’s recall elections.
The second and third waves of training were for rank-and-file members, largely recruited from the states they would work in, around core skills of grassroots organizing, fundraising, door knocking, phone banking, and leadership development. Because many of the 2012 leads were veterans of the 2004 and 2008 campaigns, and had worked with Wellstone Action before, SEIU was poised to reach millions of critical, low-turnout voters, knocking on over 5.5 million doors nationally.
SEIU knew the key to winning was having a membership that was skilled in the key, core competencies of their electoral program. And, with hundreds of additional members joining the electoral fight from August through November’s Get Out The Vote effort, it was critical for SEIU staff to be training and leading the ongoing development for these members. So, for the final phase of this effort, Wellstone Action trained 20 lead SEIU staff to train these new activists in the final months before Election Day. By the end of October, Wellstone Action equipped SEIU to lead more than 71,000 face-to-face conversations with their membership.
The Results
This four-phase training approach was both innovative and highly effective, developing scores of new leaders and hundreds of new activists – and we won! Wellstone Action’s partnership built up SEIU’s internal training capacity, resulting in staff who were better equipped to train more members than ever would have been possible otherwise, and laid a foundation for leadership development that didn’t simply end on Election Day. Today, SEIU members are deeply engaged in organizing around key issues that impact workers, families, and communities.
Says Brandon Davis, SEIU National Political Director:
"When we launched the largest independent political effort in the country in 2012, our focus was on winning the election as well as building leaders and the enduring power needed to win for workers post-election.
Our 10-year partnership with Wellstone Action made it clear that they understand and live this approach. They are the training organization we knew could operate at the scale of a national program and provide our members and state leaders the skills and support needed to run a wildly successful campaign. Wellstone was a critical partner and, without their help, we would not have realized such a rich reward of new leaders, activists, and motivated members.”
Together, Wellstone Action and SEIU piloted an innovative and impactful training program, with a philosophy of developing sophisticated leaders and commitment to genuine organizing that was the key to winning, not just in 2012, but also in the decades to come.