Atlanta Civic Circle asked three local labor rights activists how much impact the midterm election results will have for workers’ rights in Georgia and nationally. While Democrats managed to hold the Senate in the national elections, surprising pundits who predicted a Republican takeover of Congress, Georgia remained in the hands of the Republicans for all statewide constitutional offices.
Kelsea Bond is the co-chair of the Atlanta chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, which has been supporting local Starbucks workers on unionization campaigns. Starbucks worker Amanda Rivera is a lead union organizer for the Ansley Mall Starbucks store, which unionized in June, and Amazon employee Thometra Robinson is a lead union organizer at the ATL2 Amazon warehouse in Stone Mountain, which recently staged a one-day walkout to protest pay and working conditions.
They addressed workers’ rights, the abortion issue–and why well-funded Democratic gubernatorial challenger Stacey Abrams lost to Gov. Brian Kemp.
All three labor activists said they were disappointed at the lack of discussion and coverage of workers’ rights from both candidates and the media in this election cycle, particularly at a time when the labor movement is more active than in years.
“Labor issues are not being discussed at all. Statewide, there was a rally on labor day and I think that’s great, but it’s just a talking point,” Rivera said. “Union is a buzzword to a lot of people in politics. I don’t feel as though it’s taken seriously.”
The Democratic Party is historically the party that supports labor, but all three labor activists said they didn’t see much support from either party for the working class in the midterms. Even so, all of them said they still voted – and for Democratic candidates.
“I felt it was personally important for me to vote because I’m an organizer,” Robinson said.
Rivera joined a group of voters who biked to the High Museum of Art early voting place in Midtown, and Bond encouraged her fellow DSA members to vote early.
The labor activists were unanimous in thinking widespread support for abortion rights played a major role in the national outcomes, helping Democrats to hold onto seats. “Cry all you want, but at the same time, you shoot yourself in the foot by going into people’s bedrooms,” Robinson said.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
How’d you feel about the election results–both in Georgia, where Republicans won all of the statewide offices (with a Senate race still in play), and nationally, where the “Republican wave” didn’t happen?
Kelsea Bond (Atlanta DSA): I predicted that [Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey] Abrams would lose, and that [incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael] Warnock had a chance at a runoff. I think Abrams winning would’ve put the left in a better position, but a lot of people feel that she hasn’t really been present in the state for the last four years. Her platform didn’t resonate with what was on the mind of working-class Georgians.
Nationwide, Dems didn’t do as bad as people expected. I think abortion played a role, and maybe Biden’s Student Debt relief did too. I think a lot of people are voting less for the Dems and more against Republicans.
Amanda Rivera (Starbucks): I thought Warnock would win, and he did – but not by enough [to avoid a runoff]. I was reticent about Stacey because people in Georgia feel that Kemp has done something. I won’t say it’s something positive, but definitely something.
Nationally, I was pleased to see [John] Fetterman (D) get elected [as a senator for Pennsylvania]. He was able to create a dialogue with people whom the Democratic party has ignored for a long time – working class, not college educated, and traditionally more conservative-leaning people.
Thometra Robinson (Amazon): For Georgia, I didn’t follow the campaigning really, really closely, but I voted against the suppression of reproductive and voting rights.
Someone told me that Stacey didn’t talk much about workers’ rights, because it’s not what her donors want. That could be a reason she didn’t do well. I’m hoping Warnock hits things like workers’ rights and the PRO Act hard in the runoff. [The Protecting the Right to Organize Act expands employees’ collective bargaining rights and strengthens penalties on companies that violate workers’ rights.]
What were the most important issues to you going into the election?
Bond: There was some talk about the Atlanta Medical Center closure and expansion of Medicaid – which is good – but the economic issues were not discussed as much as they should have been. Stacey doubled down on abortion, which was a big issue for young people.
Rivera: I spent a lot of time talking to coworkers about abortion and labor issues. I want better reproductive rights as a woman, so I can make choices for myself – and I want to be valued for the work that I do.
Robinson: Voting rights were big for me. My mother is a recovering addict and felon. She fought to get her voting rights back. I voted for people who would protect them.
What were some issues that you think candidates should have discussed more?
Bond: I don’t remember minimum wage, right to work, or public sector bargaining being talked about much, and I followed the campaigns pretty closely. I found Stacey’s candidacy uninspiring. She didn’t speak to workers who are struggling.
Rivera: I feel as though we don’t have strong support in the labor movement, and the narrative needs to change. It needs to be more about the fact that we all have a lot in common. Most of us are not the one percent.
Robinson: Labor organizers have no political support in the South. Where are the politicians? The group that gave the election to Dems [nationally] is the same workforce you should be advocating for. It’s the young ones who are getting snubbed by the Democratic party – and that’s sad.
In Georgia, if you want the votes, you need to be there. You need to be seen.
How’d you feel leading up to the election?
Bond: The DSA is not aligned with corporate democrats and we have criticisms of their platform but more Dems in the senate would make it easier to pass legislation like the PRO Act and voting rights protections. I felt like it was my personal duty to vote, but we know the fight takes place outside of elections with workplace organizing and canvassing.
Rivera: Voting for progressive [Democratic] candidates is the only choice we have because the other side – conservative candidates – don’t have a problem with corporate greed. We’re fundamentally at a time where that needs to be addressed.
The final day to vote in the U.S. Senate runoff election between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R) is Dec. 6. Click here to find the early voting location nearest to you.