Union leaders in Missouri and Illinois were surprised and disappointed by the results of the recall election in Wisconsin.
But there’s silver lining in the results that could lead to an even better mobilization of union voters in this year’s presidential election, they believe.
Unions spent millions of dollars to elect a pro-labor Democrat governor in a special election to recall Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker, who with a Republican-controlled legislature adopted a right-to-work (for less) law for local and state public employees.
The law restricted their bargaining to wages only, and imposed new requirements on healthcare and pension benefits.
It made unions voluntary for public employees and imposed a requirement for union members to authorize dues payments annually.
“This was bad for all working families and bad for Labor,” said Bob Soutier, President of the St. Louis Labor Council.
“But it’s hard to win when you are outspent seven to one.”
Soutier was referring to the financial help from right-wing billionaires, including the notorious Koch brothers, who forked over more than $30 million for Walker’s campaign. The Republican National Committee and other Republican donors made up another $20 million.
Republicans had so much money they were even paying people to put up Walker signs in their yards.
Despite the loss in Wisconsin, Soutier believes unions in the St. Louis area will be well organized and focused for the general election in November, when U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon will lead a strong Democratic ticket. He thinks the loss in Wisconsin will energize the local union community to work even harder in the general election.
“We will have a massive get out the vote drive and I think we will be stronger than ever, now that we’ve seen what we are up against.”
Missouri AFL-CIO President Hugh McVey saw one encouraging sign in the Wisconsin election.
“The exit polls showed that a majority of voters still favored President Obama for President. If that holds true, we can count on Wisconsin being one of the big industrial states Obama is expecting to win. That’s good news for the nation.”
McVey noted that post-election analysis indicated about a quarter of union members voted for Walker.
“That’s very disappointing. I don’t understand it. I guess they don’t realize that he may be after public unions today. But they will be after their unions tomorrow.”
Soutier, McVey and Jeff Aboussie, the executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Trades Council, all blamed the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision for opening the floodgates of money from billionaires and corporations.
Wisconsin’s results demonstrate even more the need for a constitutional amendment prohibiting such contributions, McVey said.
Aboussie said the Wisconsin election would probably lead to even more efforts in Missouri and other states to restrict collective bargaining.
“Today it’s the public sector. Tomorrow it’s the private sector, “
he said. “This should be a wake up call for all of us. We need to continue all of our efforts at educating our members of the value they get from their unions. We should also do a better job of letting the business community and others know of the tremendous value we bring to them and to our communities with the training programs we have for young men and women. They don’t get that training if they are working for a nonunion contractor in a right-to-work state.”