Momentum shifting in state battles

May 23, 2016

It’s not just federal elections that have an impact on working families. As we were reminded all too well in places like Wisconsin and Michigan, state and local elections can have far reaching consequences.
For the past six years, working families have been placed on the defensive by a flurry of state and local measures looking to break the power of collective bargaining all across this country.
Despite ongoing losses, unions are gaining strength, fighting back—and winning—with new approaches, emphasizing a renewed focus on the grassroots and building awareness of legislative issues.
We are starting to notch the victories that will eventually turn the tide against these right-wing attacks. Below are recent examples—be they wins or temporary setbacks—from three states where the battle for working families is being waged.
Union-busting by override
Despite a long, hard-fought battle, West Virginia became the nation’s 26th Right-to-Work for less state earlier this year. West Virginia stands out for the historic and bloody battles workers waged there for generations. West Virginia’s coal miners were at the forefront of the fights that brought better pay, safety, unionization and solidarity to working families in the early half of the 20th century.
The final right-to-work vote resulted from the Republican legislature’s override of a veto from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D), who opposes right-to-work. West Virginia Republicans also voted to eliminate that state’s prevailing wage law—and overrode Gov. Tomblin’s veto of that bill as well.
While the events in West Virginia outline another temporary setback, working families have once again won the day in New Mexico.
Union win shocks opponents
The 2016 legislative session was an unqualified success for New Mexico’s Sheet Metal Local 49. With anti-worker legislation whipping through the country, New Mexico has shown itself to be an emerging labor stronghold—with tactics and pro-worker forces to be reckoned with.
With damaging bills such as those designed to strip workers (both union and non-union) of their union-negotiated prevailing wages, and the so called, Right-to-Work bill (the “Employee Preference Act”) being pushed by the Republicans, workers’ rights in New Mexico are under serious threat.
Yet, SM Local 49 members were able to defeat this legislation and keep it from reaching the Governor’s desk. The winning effort saw Local 49 work in collaboration with the New Mexico Building and Constructions Trades Council, the New Mexico Federation of Labor, and many other labor organizations.
Grassroots effort plus research for our allies
Labor’s victory has left the state’s Republican-controlled House in shock—and now aware of our political influence in the Capitol.
SM Local 49 has been a crucial asset and resource in this defeat of the attack on “little Davis-Bacon,” providing our Democratic decision makers with facts and research on public works projects. The backup material was used to discredit claims made by the partisan New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, which is staffed by antiworker zealots.
Along with the research support, a special thank-you for the members who sent handwritten letters to their legislators in opposition of these bills as well as for all the other SM Local 49 members, staff, family and friends who gave so much of their time and effort to secure the future of New Mexican workers.
This fight is not over, but with everyone pulling together through this 2016 election to support candidates who support us, we will be more than ready when the attack inevitably begins again in the 2017 Session. This battle proves that together, we can make things happen!
Resurgence puts RTW on hold
In Kentucky, labor-backed candidates won three of four special House elections in March, culminating a comeback that left right-to-work for dead in that state. For now.
Right-to-work was very much alive last fall and through the winter as Republican Matt Bevin was elected Governor on a platform that included right-to-work as a feature. The state Senate has a strong Republican majority that favors right-to-work.
Gov. Bevin’s election, however, left the Kentucky House of Representatives, then held by Democrats by a slim margin, as the only obstacle blocking right-to-work from being the law of the land in Kentucky. And four seats had special elections ahead of an anticipated vote.
The GOP was expected to sweep all four special elections, to gain a House majority. Further, a GOP sweep—or even wins in three of the races—would have given the Republicans significant momentum going into this fall’s elections. Their pro-right to work stance alienated them from Kentucky’s working families who saw the GOP’s anti-worker agenda exposed for all to see. Now momentum seems to be with the Democrats.
Events in each of these states shows the importance each of our votes have in swaying the lives of millions of working families. Whether we vote, and the decisions we make when we do vote, will determine the course of future attempts by anti-worker politicians and their wealthy benefactors to cut wages and benefits so they can suck up every last bit of corporate profit.
The labor movement stands as the last line of defense against those efforts. VOTE UNION! From State offices to the U.S. Senate to President, if we to stand united like they did in New Mexico, we can beat back these assaults on working families and reverse the anti-labor tide that is eroding our jobs, livelihoods and families’ futures.