As the year ends, many people are looking back on 2010 as a historic time of political upheaval. But one of the year’s biggest political developments has been mostly overlooked.
If voters sent one message loudly and consistently, it is this: They do not like unions. The American electorate availed itself of almost every chance to take a whack at organized labor.
Big Labor has been pushing hard in Congress to pass Card Check, which eliminates secret ballots in workplace elections, allowing organizers to identify and bully workers opposed to unionizing. But voters in four states — Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah — ratified anti-Card Check initiatives requiring secret ballots in workplace elections.
With public-sector union pension plans around the country sinking under trillions of dollars of debt, six states — Alabama, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin — elected governors who promised to transfer state employees from costly defined-benefit pension plans to 401(k)-defined contribution plans.
In Ohio, incoming Republican Gov. John Kaisch is talking about eliminating laws dictating union-scale wages for public projects and dropping certain bargaining privileges for police and firefighter unions. In Wisconsin, Gov.-elect Scott Walker recently said he is considering abolishing public-sector unions.
In California, it was an electoral bloodbath for public-sector unions. The state’s public employee union pension plan is $535 billion in the red, or $36,000 in debt for every household in the Golden State. Voters were not pleased.
In seven cities — Bakersfield, Carlsbad, Menlo Park, Pacific Grove, Redding, Riverside and San Jose — voters approved initiatives curbing public pension costs. And a proposed sales tax increase in San Diego aimed at funding public-sector unions lost.
California voters also showed they were not pleased with private-sector unions. At a time when California’s unemployment rate was 12 percent, local unions killed a deal to build a billion-dollar development in Southern California that would have created 12,000 jobs.
Developer Gaylord Entertainment balked at signing an agreement that would have sparked big cost overruns while stuffing union coffers. Voters in Chula Vista and Oceanside, two towns near the proposed development, approved referendums banning such agreements.
In New Jersey, voters approved only 41 percent of the 538 proposed budgets in the state’s annual school election.
Despite the clear messages being sent, unions are more influential than ever at the federal level.
Liberal political appointees on the National Labor Relations Board recently issued a decision allowing unions to forgo secret ballots in certain circumstances.
President Barack Obama has rolled back transparency requirements for unions and encouraged project labor agreements on $140 billion in stimulus projects. In Congress, the $813 billion stimulus bill and subsequent $26 billion teacher unions bailout kept public-sector unions flush even as the private sector was drowning.
These measures are Obama’s payback to organized labor, which spent more than $200 million trying to protect Democrats in the midterm election. But how many more elections do Democrats and unions have to lose before they start heeding the will of the people?
Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Washington Examiner.