November 5, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
The state elections of 2014 were a nearly unmitigated disaster for labor. Of the seven notoriously anti-union governors elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, six won second terms, including Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
Walker, whose 2011 laws that ended the union shop and gutted collective bargaining for Wisconsin public workers set off weeks of protests and an unsuccessful recall effort, won 53% of the vote against Democrat Mary Burke. In Michigan, Rick Snyder, who in a lame-duck legislative session in 2012 rammed through a law banning the union shop and a measure restoring the state’s ability to cut Detroit city workers’ pensions after voters had overturned it, beat Mark Schauer. And in Ohio, John Kasich, who in 2011 signed a Walker-style collective-bargaining overhaul that was repealed by state voters that fall, coasted to a second term over Edward FitzGerald.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka called Walker the “poster child” for anti-labor politicians, but there are others who might be more extreme. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a hectomillionaire who opposed a six-cent increase in the state’s minimum wage and reduced unemployment benefits to 16 weeks, narrowly defeated former governor Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned Democrat. In 2011, Scott issuedan executive order requiring all workers and job applicants at state agencies to be tested for drugs. He owned a chain of drug-testing clinics at the time.
Two of the nation’s most extreme right-wing governors, Sam Brownback in Kansas and Paul LePage in Maine, both won three-way races. The loudmouthed LePage, who has advocated repealing child-labor laws, had a labor-history mural removed from a state office building, and verbally abused state workers who he said were letting too many people collect unemployment benefits, edged Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and third-party candidate Eliot Cutler. Brownback, who signed bills that prohibited local governments from enacting living-wage or prevailing-wage laws and ended the state’s requirement that school districts give teachers tenure, beat Democrat Paul Davis and Libertarian Keen Umbehr.
The one exception was Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett, who had supported the cancellation of Philadelphia teachers’ union contract and said he would sign a bill to outlaw the union shop, was unseated by Democrat Tom Wolf. Wolf made preserving defined-benefit pensions a main issue in his campaign, attacking Corbett’s proposal to eliminate pensions for future state workers,
Among three Democratic gubernatorial candidates with a record of cutting state workers’ pensions, two won. In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn lost to multimillionaire Bruce Rauner, who supports more extreme cuts. Rhode Island state treasurer Gina Raimondo, the architect of replacing guaranteed monthly pensions with a hybrid of smaller checks and a 401(k)-style plan, moved up to the governorship by topping Republican Allen Fung.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who made reducing pensions for future workers one of his top priorities in his first term, was easily re-elected over Republican Rob Astorino, but Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins won 5% of the vote, cutting Cuomo’s share to about 54%, below the landslide he’d wanted. The Greens’ success also bumped the union-backed Working Families Party—which had endorsed Cuomo in exchange for a few policy promises after a bitter intra-party struggle—down to the fifth line on state ballots for the next four years.