Top labor union aims to topple six GOP governors: payback or big risk?
For 2014, the AFL-CIO is targeting Republican governors in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which have signed bills curbing union rights. But big-spending GOP 'super PACs' could stand in the way.
America’s most powerful labor union is targeting six Republican governors in a campaign to remove them from office in 2014.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The strategy is considered by payback for a series of attacks on organized labor since November 2010, when voters ushered the new wave of hard-right Republicans into office. The legislation the governors pushed curbed many unions' collective bargaining rights, established right-to-work laws, clamped down on voting rights, and, subsequently, diminished union strength in those states.
The GOP governors said the battle was about balancing budgets, but it looked to the unions like a frontal assault on their survival. That's why the AFL-CIO, rather than accepting the 2014 election as a referendum on President Obama, aims to bring the fight to the states that mark the breaking point for union growth.
RECOMMENDED: Election 2012: top seven super PACs
“The stakes for working people are particularly high. We think these are states in which the legislative and political framework could tip significantly one way or another,” says Jeff Hauser, an AFL-CIO spokesman in Washington.
The six governors are primarily from the Midwest: John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Scott in Florida, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, plus Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Paul LePage in Maine. Mr. Hauser says the AFL-CIO will not neglect important state and congressional races in the rest of the country, but its “focus” will be those six battlegrounds where the majority of its 12 million members are located.
The membership has fallen 5 percent between 2010 and 2012, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 11.3 percent of the US workforce belongs to the union, a 15 percent drop from 10 years ago. While union membership has eroded over decades, the more recent drop is largely blamed on efforts such as Governor Walker’s push to remove collective bargaining rights for public workers and Governor Snyder's successful bid to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state.
“The most damage to unions over the last decade is coming from these governors," says Geoff Peterson, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. "It doesn’t strike me as shocking they would be the focus.
“In terms of preserving the unions, the battle is a state-level fight rather than a national one," he adds.
In whittling back the power of public-sector unions, the governors and Republican-led legislatures struck at the heart of organized labor. Such workers now represent the majority of union membership: Nearly 36 percent of public workers are in a union, five times higher than the nearly 7 percent of private-sector workers who are unionized, according to the labor bureau.
During the past two years, unions have dispatched ground troops and spent millions on a continual stream of elections in various states, including a failed recall of Walker last year, when union spending neared $2 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a watchdog group.
In addition, political action committees representing unions spent about $4.4 billion on federal, state, and local politicking between 2005 and 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.