Blog Post

Message from the Field: Happy Birthday Working America

Karen Nussbaum and Matt Morrison


Twenty years ago today, Working America organizers knocked our first door and held our first face-to-face conversations in Cleveland, Ohio.  

An experiment of the AFL-CIO, we were testing whether we could reach non-union working people who were being sheared off by a right-wing agenda.

Karen remembers talking with machinists, teachers, electricians, and retail workers in those first few weeks about the issues that concerned them most – the outsized role of big corporations – and that joining together could give ordinary people more control over economic issues. Two out of three people with whom we talked signed up as Working America members – people like the visually-impaired woman returning from a doctor’s appointment who agreed with her partner that they could contribute $5 if they took the bus next week instead of a taxi. Our experiment was a wild success.

Since then, organizers have talked to workers and voters in nearly every corner of the country- Maine to Miami, Alaska to Arizona, and points in between, growing our membership to 4.1 million people. We have listened to more than 12 million people talk about how they experience the economy and our democracy, meeting each one with the same message – when we join together, we build a strength in numbers that makes our demands powerful. A simple, but profound concept for the millions of working-class Americans who were not part of a union or the broader progressive movement.

In those early years, we grew some of our largest member bases in then-battleground states like Oregon, New Mexico, and Minnesota where Working America members now account for more than one in ten voters. Along the way, we contributed to many defining elections: Tim Kaine’s election as Governor of Virginia in 2005, Sherrod Brown and Ted Strickland’s wins in Ohio in 2006, and Barack Obama’s win of the state in 2008. But more than elections, we have seen the fruits of our labor help change the lives of working-class people, from the passage of the Affordable Care Act to helping enact minimum wage increases in cities as diverse as Albuquerque, Saint Paul, and Greensboro.

But we also survived and adapted through historic challenges, including the Great Recession of 2008, the red wave elections of 2010 and 2014, the election of Donald Trump, the COVID pandemic, and attacks on our very democracy, growing stronger after each.

The pandemic caused us to shut down our canvass operations in a pivotal election year, so we invented a new suite of digital and remote organizing tactics. We expanded our use of rigorous clinical analytics to build strategies (conducting more than 1,000 randomized control trials) that resulted in direct benefits to working-class members as well as election wins, such as more than $200 million in unemployment insurance to Black workers who otherwise wouldn’t have received it; affordable connectivity discounts and other benefits across muli-racial communities in just the last three years; and winning more votes than the margin of victory in states like Arizona and Georgia in 2020 and again in 2022, adding Nevada and a handful of U.S. House races.

And our model of science-based organizing is only beginning to meet its potential. In 2024 we will add hundreds of thousands of votes for President Biden’s reelection and dozens of other contests, and expand our fight for economic security for the working class. But when we revisit this date 20 years from now, we will have accomplished so much more.

Matt puts our strategy simply: movement and math. As an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, we are bringing millions of non-union workers into the labor movement, affecting their worldview through membership, and making the best possible use of resources by rigorously testing everything we do. What we do – reaching millions of not-yet-polarized working Americans– could not be more important. Democracy hangs in the balance.

Thank you to each and every one of you for everything you have done to help Working America meet this moment. We can not wait to see what we all can do together.

Karen Nussbaum, Founder

Matt Morrison, Executive Director

To support this work for the future you can make a contribution to Working America here. Contributions to Working America are not tax deductible.

Or you could support our issue education and civic engagement work with a donation to the Working America Education Fund here. Contributions to the Working America Education may be tax deductible.



<< Back to News