Big Labor’s Watershed Moment

Edward Morrisey looks at the impact of recent victories in Wisconsin and Indiana arguing that this signals a watershed moment for reform:

Have we reached a watershed moment for the labor movement? Earlier this year, Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to enact right-to-work laws. Arizona made their already-restrictive environment even tougher. And now, after targeting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other republican lawmakers for more than a year, the labor movement has come up empty.

In Wisconsin, Walker’s reforms of public-sector collective bargaining were at issue. Democrats nationwide allied themselves with the unions in pushing for recall elections, and liberal pundits promised they would stop this encroachment on labor prerogatives and send a lesson to other governors around the nation. In that, at least, they succeeded, but not in the way the unions had hoped.

Despite the high-profile campaign waged by the labor movement in Wisconsin — where unions have a long history of support – Wisconsin voters reaffirmed Walker as their governor. In fact, Walker won 125,000 more votes in the special recall election than he did in 2010, which was known as a wave election for Tea Party conservatives. He bested the same opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, by an even wider margin of seven points rather than the five-point victory 19 months earlier.

The results exposed labor’s weakness rather than strength. While it might not encourage other states to take drastic action to reduce the collective bargaining power, the impotence of the unions in what had been the heart of the progressive Midwest certainly won’t convince anyone not to try. Thanks to the millions spent by the unions in a failed attempt at undoing the 2010 election, Big Labor might not have the resources to fight on this scale again, especially with the national election on the horizon.

Nor was this the only big loss that unions took on Tuesday night. In California, where public-employee unions have exerted a strong influence on politics for decades, two cities defied the PEUs to pass badly-needed pension reforms. That may not have come as a big surprise in relatively conservative San Diego, where pension obligations now eat up 20 percent of the city’s operating budget. Halfway up the coast, though, San Jose and its Democratic-dominated government successfully convinced voters to enact a similar kind of pension reform in order to reduce the 27 percent drag on the city’s operating budget. In both cases, the unions fought the referendums, but in both cases they lost big; 66 percent of San Diego voters backed the reforms, while 70 percent in San Jose did the same.

Voters in Wisconsin sent Walker to the capital in 2010 based on his promise to reform that PEU-government relationship and to impose fiscal discipline on state spending. They reaffirmed him as governor for delivering on those promises. If voters in Wisconsin and California have had enough of the influence that public-employee unions have on policy, the union movement won’t find many safe havens elsewhere in the country – and taxpayers may finally regain control over reckless spending at the state and local level.


The National Right to Work Committee relies on your voluntary contributions to fund its programs. Please chip in a $10 contribution today.