"All of us reported getting stinging e-mails and hearing the code words of racism from some members" after the AFL-CIO endorsed Barack Obama earlier in the year, Gage said. (The AFGE is a member union of the AFL-CIO.) "There was a frank discussion of race at the meeting, and we decided to go after it head-on."
The union has already shelled out $500,000 to run the ad in Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virgina and West Virginia -- with "more to come." While a union representative said the ad's focus on racism and sexism means it could apply to both campaigns, there's little doubt from its opening lines that the radio spot is most concerned with the former.
"I’m old enough to appreciate the union movement’s contributions to civil rights -- and I’m white enough to pick up on the code words of prejudice," Gage says, later adding, "There are 100 good reasons for how you vote this year and only one bad reason."
The ad isn't designed to convince voters to give up racism, Gage told NationalJournal.com, but to make the economic costs of that bias clear.
"Prejudice is not free," he added.
Gage isn't the only one making waves on the race issue this election season. Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, blasted racism during a steelworkers convention in July in a speech that has since been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online.
The AFGE also plans to release an advertisement with television personality Judge Joe Brown closer to Election Day that will encourage listeners to resist voter suppression efforts at the polls, Gage said.