After the 2012 election, labor unions celebrated what was seen as an overall victorious election season for their organizations. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka bragged that labor’s political organization provided the support necessary for Barack Obama to win re-election.
“We did deliver those states,” said Trumka during a recent press conference, referring to Nevada, Wisconsin, and Ohio. “I think without the efforts of organized labor, those three states would have been different -- none of those three would have been in the president’s column.”
He may be right. Big Labor’s political outreach was also successful in securing union favored ballot initiatives in several states.
Acting accordingly with the state’s determination to commit fiscal suicide, California gave labor unions their largest victory of the night by passing Proposition 30, a union backed ballot initiative which raises the state’s sales tax and the income tax rate of the state’s highest earners (ostensibly on the behalf of the state’s education system). At the same time, California voters also rejected Proposition 32, which would have banned corporate and union political donations to state and local candidates.
Since California’s political landscape renders these victories unsurprising, Big Labor also scored wins in red states that Gov. Mitt Romney carried easily. In Idaho, the defeat of Propositions 1 and 2, which would have reformed the state’s education system, was a victory for the Idaho Education Association. A similar initiative in South Dakota, which would have eliminated teacher tenure and instituted merit pay, was also defeated.
While labor unions did win some major battles in several states, the narrative that unions were overall victorious in the 2012 elections is exaggerated.
Nor did Big Labor win all of its battles on the education front. In Georgia, Amendment 1, which clarifies the power of the state to authorize charter schools, passed, disappointing the public education establishment in the state. In Washington state, Initiative 1240, which would allow the state to authorize charter schools, looks likely to pass according to recent voter returns despite opposition from the Washington Education Association.
The biggest defeat suffered by Big Labor happened in Michigan, where Proposal 2 (also known as the “Protect Our Jobs” proposal) was defeated. If Proposal 2 had passed, it would have enshrined collective bargaining into the state’s constitution, making unions more powerful than state legislators. In a state that ranks 5th in the total number of unionized workers and where union supporters raised millions for Proposal 2’s campaign, “Protect Our Jobs” lost overwhelmingly by a 14 percent margin.
So the truth is that while Big Labor was able to flex its political muscle and show results, their claims of total victory look more like a mixed bag.