Labor and Employment Look at the 2014 Elections

The election tide of November 4, 2104, begs to be examined from a labor and employment perspective.

Minimum Wage

Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Attorney Hans Bader notes, “As pollsters predicted, voters approved increases in state-level minimum wages in four states (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota), although to levels less than the increase in the minimum wage proposed by Congressional Democrats (to $9.75 in Alaska, $9 in Nebraska, and $8.50 in Arkansas and South Dakota). Voters in the City of San Francisco voted to raise the minimum wage to a whopping $15 per hour from the current $10.74.”

Minimum wage was on the ballot in Illinois as an advisory question. “The measure asked voters whether they support increasing the hourly minimum wage to $10 by January 1, 2015.” The measure passed by a vote of 66% to 33%, mirroring the vote in both the state House and state Senate on legislation to do the same.

In all of these states, the minimum wage proved popular with between 60 and 66 percent of the voters, as it did in 2013 in New Jersey.

David Boaz of the Cato Institute took to Facebook to proclaim, “Minimum wage increases passed in five states. Economics professors teach millions of students each year about the dangers of government fixing prices, wages, etc., including the minimum wage. It’s like no one learned.”


As I wrote in April of 2014, “[A] minimum wage hike…will kill jobs. About 80 percent of economists surveyed recognize this job-killing reality… Moreover, 85 percent of econometric studies demonstrate this job-killing fact, [explains] U.S. News & World Report… James Buchanan, 1986 Nobel laureate in economics, famously wrote in The Wall Street Journal on April 25, 1996: ‘[N]o self-respecting economist would claim that increases in the minimum wage increase employment…’ U.S. Senators follow the Congressional Budget Office’s “score” of the cost of bills. In the middle of CBO’s range of estimates for a bill that raises the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour is a loss of 500,000 jobs… A recent Bloomberg News National Poll found 57 percent believe it is ‘unacceptable’ to risk 500,000 jobs…” [Legislators] voting for this minimum wage hike will have a hard time explaining their focus on job creation.”

If only the projected job losses were written into the ballot questions, there could be different vote outcomes.


A right-to-work law that allows people the freedom to get a job without having to join a union. Twenty-four states have right-to-work laws, and 26 have forced unionism.

After looking at the map of forced unionism state versus states with the right to work, and layering in the predominance of center-right policy leanings in the southern states, many have assessed that Kentucky and West Virginia could be good candidates for the next states to adopt right-to-work laws.

The thinking advanced by the National Right To Work Committee (NRTWC), historically the big dog in this fight, is that ballot initiatives are NOT the way to go. Instead NRTWC favors a legislative path to fruition.


For Kentucky to pass such a law, Republicans, already in control of the state Senate, were going to have pick up a minimum of five seats to take control of the state House. Actually, Republican leadership desired a few seats to spare so that particular Members could be “released” to vote no and still have the bill whipped to passage without necessarily setting up primary challenges for those voting no.

The elections in Kentucky resulted in no change of seats in the state house. While somewhat surprising given the southern nature of the state and the Republican wave, there is a solid explanation.

The Courier-Journal based in Louisville reported, “Republicans had hoped for a net gain of five seats on the night to give the GOP a majority in the chamber for the first time since 1921. House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the results were not what he had hoped for. But Hoover said holding at 46 seats was still a significant accomplishment coming after Democratic-controlled House redistricting last year.” Adverse redistricting for Republicans accounts for the numerical stalemate.

West Virginia

West Virginia was considered by many to be the next, best hope for adopting a right-to-work law. It has now likely leaped ahead of Kentucky.

West Virginia Metro News reports, “Republicans made a hard charge to power in the West Virginia legislature, taking control of the House of Delegates and pulling even in the state Senate.”

“The GOP hasn’t enjoyed a majority in the 100-seat House of Delegates since 1931 but made historic gains in Tuesday’s general election. Republicans closed the night with a 64-36 edge, picking up 17 seats after entering the election trailing 53-47.”

“Democrats saw their 24-10 majority in the state Senate trimmed to a 17-17 deadlock. Among the most stunning upsets was the ouster of Truman Chafin who had served in the Senate since 1982. He was unseated by Mark Maynard…”

New Mexico

New Mexico may be trending upward on the list of right-to-work prospect states with the re-election of Governor Susana Martinez and with the Republicans taking over the state House. The Albuquerque Journal writes, “Republicans seized control of the New Mexico House of Representatives for the first time in 60 years after GOP candidates declared victory in a handful of high-profile races.” Republicans now hold a 37-33 advantage there.

However, the Democrats still control a sizeable majority of 25-17 in the state Senate. Work remains to be done there, and until the Senate flips, enacting a right to work will probably be dead.

Without the votes to pass it, Governor Martinez sensibly has not pushed for a right-to-work law, but she has not been afraid to go up against unions, specifically the teachers’ unions which oppose her standardized teacher evaluation system.

Transparency & Monopoly Bargaining

In Colorado, Proposition 104 on the ballot read, “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes requiring any meeting of a board of education, or any meeting between any representative of a school district and any representative of employees, at which a collective bargaining agreement is discussed to be open to the public?”

The Durango Herald reported, “Proposition 104 pits a free-market think tank against teachers’ unions and school executives, who worry about eroding local control. Proponents, including Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, said the goal of Proposition 104 is simply to shine a light on teachers’ contract negotiations. ‘The people in the smoky backrooms don’t want those doors open, and really, this is just about getting some sunshine into the most important process that any school board does,’ Caldara said.”

Seventy percent of the people supported this proposition, with only thirty percent opposed. When a proposition is supported by 70% of the people in a purple state, you are looking at a policy winner.

Look for this style of transparency proposition to be on ballots in 2016.

Governors & Pension Reform

The safety and security of workers’ pensions won impressively yesterday with the victories of all five high-profile candidates for governor who took strong stands on pensions.

In short, pension reform proved a winning issue.

Reuters reports, “Democrat Gina Raimondo, who gained national attention for overhauling Rhode Island’s ailing pension system, won a close race to become the state’s first woman governor.”

Democrat State Treasurer Gina Raimondo defeated Mayor of Cranston Allan Fung by a 40 to 37 percent margin, with the Moderate party’s Bob Healey winning 22 percent.

The Washington Post editorialized, “[B]itter fights continue between unions representing public workers and reformers trying to fix the problem before it cripples state and local budgets. In some instances, that battle has been waged between factions within the Democratic Party, and nowhere more bitterly than in tiny Rhode Island, which, despite its size, dug itself a gargantuan pit of pension debt over the years with lavish promises and fiscal mismanagement. Ms. Raimondo’s primary [and now general-election] victory should stiffen the spines of Democrats in other states where taxpayers and the services they count on have been given short shrift in favor of public-sector unions. Presented with the facts, voters can be persuaded to opt for balance and fiscal sanity.”

Voters opted for the same balance and fiscal sanity in handing gubernatorial victories to other candidates fighting government unions—Republicans Rick Snyder in Michigan, Rick Scott in Florida, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Bruce Rauner in Illinois.

The Wall Street Journal assessed: “The victories…are all the more impressive because they had dared to challenge the sanctum sanctorum of Democrat politics—public union power.”

“Mr. Walker famously reformed collective bargaining, and the AFL-CIO went all in against him first in a recall and is now a double loser. Mr. Snyder signed a right-to-work law in the home of the United Auto Workers and survived. Mr. Scott signed tenure reform and pay evaluation for teachers, while Democrat Charlie Crist played up to the unions.”

“The grand slam was completed by Republican Bruce Rauner, the private-equity manager who defeated incumbent Pat Quinn and the Democrat-public union alliance in Illinois, of all places. Mr. Rauner campaigned on pension reform…”

Regarding Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s re-election, the left-leaning New Republic rank a piece for which the title says it all, “You Know Unions Are Weak When Disgruntled Autoworkers Can’t Oust a GOP Governor.”

Spine stiffening indeed.


John B. Judis reports in the New Republic, “Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ran an ad backing equal pay for women after previously signing a bill that repealed a state law requiring equal pay. A host of Republican candidates, including Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and Dan Sullivan in Alaska, suddenly decided they supported an increase in the minimum wage.”


For the future, prepare for more action on minimum wage.

Expect to see more measures supporting transparency for monopoly bargaining.

Finally, look to see more efforts to stabilize underfunded pension plans.

What you likely will not see at the state level in many states in the immediate future are right-to-work measures. You will, however, probably see right-to-work initiatives at the local level.