From the December 2013 issue of Labor Watch:
In the November election, New York City voters elected the first Democratic mayor in 20 years, Bill de Blasio, who was a volunteer for the Soviet-backed Sandinistas in Nicaragua, honeymooned in the workers’ paradise of Cuba, and was a supporter of the extremist “Occupy” movement. Key early support for his campaign came from the nation’s largest union local, SEIU Local 1199. But de Blasio may have a hard time repaying municipal-employee unions for their support. According to the New York Times, the city’s 300,000 workers “are angry that their contracts expired years ago” and they are demanding more than $7 billion in retroactive pay hikes, even though the city faces a $2 billion deficit next year.
In Virginia, Bill and Hillary Clinton operative Terry McAuliffe was elected governor with 48%, to 45.5% for his Republican opponent. A Libertarian candidate apparently pulled off enough votes to throw the election to the Democrat. Unions spent at least $2.5 million to back McAuliffe, which Fred Wszolek of the Workforce Fairness Institute called a good investment. “No one has been a better bag man for union money than Terry McAuliffe,” he said.
In Colorado, voters defeated an increase in the state income tax to 5% on income up to $75,000 and 5.9% on income above that amount. The current tax rate is a flat 4.63%. The measure, supported by billionaires Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, failed in 62 of 64 counties. Proceeds were supposed to be used for K-12 education, but, as columnist Michael Barone wrote, “the fact it was strongly supported by teachers unions suggests it would have mostly pumped money to the reform-resisting unions which in turn would have pumped money into the Democratic Party.”
In Toledo, Ohio, unions led the effort to oust the incumbent mayor. In Cincinnati, a pension-reform measure was rejected by voters. In Boston, the new mayor is Martin Walsh, who has been president of Laborers Local 223 and secretary-treasurer of Boston’s Building Trades Council.
At press time, there was a 19 vote lead in favor of a measure requiring a $15-an-hour wage, along with other benefits, for transportation and hospitality workers in the vicinity of the Seattle airport. In New Jersey, voters amended the state constitution to raise the “minimum wage” to $8.25 an hour and automatically raise it in the future; that will help unions at the expense of small businesses and of unskilled workers who will be priced out of the job market.
New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie was re-elected 60%-38%. Michael Barone noted that “A largely unreported part of Christie’s policy and political success in New Jersey has been his alliance with Democrats with private-sector union backgrounds,” like the president of the state senate and “longtime political panjandrum George Norcross of Camden County.” The alliance helped Christie rein in the public-sector unions, but at a price: Despite Christie’s landslide victory, the GOP minority picked up no state Senate seats and only two state House seats.
The Republican Party is in sorry shape in California, holding 31% of the legislative seats and none of 10 statewide offices. But Republicans can look to unions for help. The Service Employees International Union in 2011 launched a political action committee aimed at supporting “moderate” [sic] Republicans. This year, SEIU donated $15,000 to the California GOP, the correctional officers union gave $50,000, and the California Teachers Association donated $13,000 (out of $100 million a year it spends on politics). All three unions were present at the state party’s convention this year.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The unions’ willingness to deal with the GOP is largely credited to [the new state chairman, Jim] Brulte, who told Republicans at their convention that they can no longer ignore unions . . . if they hope to escape minority-party status.” Said Yvonne Walker, president of the 93,000-member SEIU Local 1000: “I don’t know if it’s the start of something beautiful.” The Chronicle noted that, “in a move that suggested a newly conciliatory approach, an SEIU leader [attending the state convention] even posed for pictures with a GOP blogger who has been highly critical of public-employee unions.” Kumbaya, anyone?
Meanwhile, the national economy continues to sputter. With the nation burdened under unprecedented levels of taxes, spending, and regulation, the labor force participation rate (the percentage of people age 16 or older who have a job or are actively seeking one) has reached a 35-year low of 62.8%. Believe it or not, when a person drops out of the workforce, the government no longer counts that person as “unemployed”—which explains how President Obama gets credit for supposedly bringing down the unemployment rate. Otherwise, the current 7.3% would be close to 11%.
CRC’s Haller intern Malia Dalesandry contributed to this report