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Unions, Political Engagement, and Inspiring the Practice of Voting – with Alex Hertel-Fernandez

February 28, 2024
11:45 am - 1:15 pm

The capacity of labor unions to act as “schools of democracy” has long been recognized. From voting in union leadership elections to organizing campaigns around topical issues, unions provide a range of opportunities for electoral participation for its membership. A growing body of research has suggested a broader link between unions and political engagement and electoral outcomes. Compared to their non-union counterparts, union members report higher rates of voter turnout, participation in political activity, and strength of partisanship. But what is less well understood is the causal impact of unions on electoral participation and voting behavior – what it is about unions and their mechanisms that may translate to union members being more likely than nonmembers to identify as people with responsibility to act in the political system. Given the urgency of the moment and our current political climate, the time is now to consider novel theories and bold ideas about how workers and their organizations can be empowered to strengthen and protect democracy.

This lunchtime seminar will convene practitioners from the labor movement and from across academic disciplines, including law, political science, sociology, and government to assess our current understanding of internal democratic practices in the context of unions and the workplace as a site for political identity formation. We will consider what strategies for mobilization and political socialization have been effective in inculcating an impetus to participate in the political system among union members. We will invite attendees to share diverse perspectives, theories, and evidence to inform a research agenda for further exploration.

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez is a political scientist and associate professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

This event is by invitation only. If you’d like to learn more, please email

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