Election 2013’s Biggest Winner? Labor Unions

Voters across the country pushed union-backed candidates into office this election cycle

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Steven Senne / AP

Newly elected Boston mayor Martin Walsh addresses an audience during a watch party in Boston on Nov. 5, 2013

Who won this election cycle? Union leaders say they did.

Across the country, candidates backed by unions triumphed over their counterparts, while ballot measures broke in favor of the unions that had campaigned for them as well. “Yesterday was not only a victory for unions, but a victory for working families,” Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, tells TIME.

In Toledo, Ohio, councilman D. Michael Collins defeated incumbent mayor Mike Bell, riding anger over Bell’s antiunion policies. In Boston, former labor boss Martin Walsh was endorsed by national and local labor groups and is now the mayor-elect. And in New York City, Bill de Blasio is now the first Democratic mayor after two decades of Republican reign, thanks in part to early support from the health-care-workers’ union, SEIU 1199. In Cincinnati, voters rejected a pension-reform ballot initiative, while in New Jersey and Washington State they raised the minimum wage.

The victories are a change for the beleaguered labor unions, which have struggled for influence in recent years as national and state leaders have enacted right-to-work laws, vetoed bills to raise the minimum wage, and run and won on antiunion platforms.

Governors in Ohio and Wisconsin reduced the collective-bargaining rights of public workers. Michigan and Indiana joined 22 states in 2012 and enacted right-to-work laws that curb union power. And over the past three decades, both public and private membership in unions has steadily declined.

“From place to place, the labor movement has been under immense pressure,” says Matt Morrison, the political director for Working America, an AFL-CIO ally organization that builds alliances among nonunion workers. “Yesterday, we reasserted our agenda.”

Working America was one of the many unions and super PACs on the ground in Boston canvassing for mayor-elect Walsh, and the group worked in states across the country to push prolabor candidates and ballot measures. Nine of the eleven candidates they were pushing for are heading into office, and their positions on minimum wage prevailed, Morrison says.

It’s not clear whether the union influence will continue or revert to past cycles of decline. “We have a major challenge coming in 2014, and we have important battles to fight at the state and national levels,” says Mike Podhorzer, the political director of the AFL-CIO. “We are hoping this is a harbinger of how the electorate is feeling and gives us momentum.”

17 comments
ThomasHall
ThomasHall

What can one say about working class GOPeons who blindly support the GOP which historically has NEVER represented them? Unions are the last national organizations working on behalf of the working class while the slimy billionaire Koch brothers and their vast network of conservative think tanks, front groups, their legislative-crafting ALEC are working against workers and the working class.

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

Good. Unions helped make a difference in re-electing Pres. Obama. Under the GOP not only have unions taken a hit but so has workers rights, manufacturing and union jobs, and the Middle Class. Thanks to the failed GOP-Reagan-to-present "trickle-down economics" incomes for the top one percent went up 275% while the Middle Class shrank by 25% and wages for the 99% stagnated. Five manufacturing jobs under Bush-Cheney alone were shipped overseas along with $400+ billion in uncollected tax revenues from thousands of GOP-enabled corporate tax dodges. Secure company pensions have been reduced to risky 401(k)s and the GOP have forced its right-to-work for less laws on America allowing union-covered workers to enjoy union negotiated benefits without contributing to dues and weakening the unions.

Thanks to unions, progressives, and the Democratic Party most of the employment benefits that Americans take for granted and the social safety net of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid were created

RaviPG
RaviPG

Employers in all major industries have their own associations that protect the interests of their members. These associations, like the US Chamber of Commerce, spend hundreds of millions of dollars on political donations and advertising to ensure that the politicians enact policies that are beneficial to their members. Why can't workers also have associations, which is what the labor unions are, that protect their interests in terms of their wages/salaries and working conditions? Of the employers and workers, isn't it the latter who need more protection? 

SukieTawdry
SukieTawdry

Toledo, Boston and New York, big-time union towns all. These are your examples of unions' big win??

firmsoil
firmsoil

In socialist California not even a leaf can move without union police state permission.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Wow...3 pro-union political candidates get elected to office, and TIME Magazine immediately propounds a "Return of the Unions!" headline. 

TIME's typical premature reaction to a single data point (i.e. the 2013 Election) was then immediately contradicted - by TIME itself - in every subsequent paragraph, that outlined the mountainous challenges facing unions as the 21st century progresses, namely plummeting memberships, failing political clout/prestige, and a host of states that are becoming increasingly unfriendly to unions.

EricThompson
EricThompson

In California there was the opportunity to end corporate contributions to candidates. The unions, yes the unions, defeated it. corporations supported it. The bill would have ended union contributions also and they couldn't accept it. Hypocrisy of the highest order. Unions are not for the people of the country, they are for themselves only and are anti-American.

JohnMcNay
JohnMcNay

In fact, the Gov. of Ohio, John Kasich, and his extremist Republican colleagues only tried to reduce labor union rights. We labor unions won the vote in 2011 to repeal union-busting Senate Bill 5. It was Mayor Bell's support of SB 5 that doomed his tenure in office.

judefolly
judefolly

"Given such a wide margin of disengaged citizens, it means a candidate running for public office must raise mounds of cash for the cost of media buys that reach voters who aren't paying attention. Money doesn't grow on trees, but it certainly finds its way from the wallets of the wealthy elite and into the coffers of a political campaign."

<Electoral sabotage--by default>

http://judefolly.com/blog/2012/8/23/electoral-sabotage-by-default.html

JohnFaherty
JohnFaherty

@ThomasHall That's funny because I've heard directly from very credible sources that several unions are considering backing GOP candidates because the DEMs that swore to support them have 180'd or just blatantly disregarded the support they assured they would give. It's become kind of par for the course as far as DEMs. There's a new surge of GOP candidates in response to the GOP and Liberal extremists currently in control. It's a lot like what happened to the democratic party in response to the poor reputation they were building for themselves in the late 80's/early 90's. It wasn't too long ago that the GOP was the people's party, fighting against the DEMs (who were painting themselves as complete lunatics) in favor of progress and common sense (sound familiar?). Looks like the poles are shifting again. I guess the lesson is two fold, absolute power corrupts absolutely and be careful where your allegiances lie.

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

@RaviPG Unlike unions, the "associations" you mention and shareholders do not have a say in how the company or the association spends money or who they endorse. Associations do not always coordinate with other associations and are motivated mostly by money not working conditions or challenge company abuses.

YvetteWhite
YvetteWhite

@firmsoil then take your stupid ass to another country were your party can be god cause that's what and who you think you are, if you and all like you don't like it here go some where else believe me no one here will miss your dumb ass

tom.litton
tom.litton

@firmsoil Is this a new internet meme?


In socialist California, union police give YOU permission.

DarthStateworkr
DarthStateworkr

@EricThompson Try getting your news from someplace other than Fox, RedState, or Breitbart.  Prop 32 was full of holes for everyone - except unions.  in other words, just like so called "Right-to-Work" laws, it's true nature was far more nefarious and far less benign than advertized..

That is why unions worked against it.


JohnFaherty
JohnFaherty

@ThomasHall I'll remind you, for all of the good he'd done (and some of the bad with the good), Bill Clinton was a self proclaimed "New Democrat". Although his time did not go without its flaws, he was a very cooperative and bipartisan president; which is why there was very little issue with a resolution to the government shutdown that occurred during his presidency. Look up the term and I'm sure you can get an idea of what direction some new GOP candidates are going in.

EricThompson
EricThompson

@DarthStateworkr @EricThompson I get my news from the definitely liberal Economist (supported Obama and promotes single payer health care). An outside the country magazine. The unions only want to cut everyone else out of lobbying; they fixated on imagined flaws for CYA. It will all end once California goes bankrupt.