The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 21, 2016

Election year another chance to advance for labor

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Like people in the other 49 states, Michigan voters will go to the polls on Nov. 8 and likely the first thing on their mind is who gets their vote at the top of the ballot: Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump for U.S. president.

Trump has "tapped into the real and understandable frustration that’s felt among working people,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka about the New York real estate baron. Even so, “When you look at his policies, he’s doubling down on all the policies that have gotten us here,” Trumka added, such as his tax plan that favors the wealthy over the middle class, and previous comments that workers' wages are too high. "He’s a house of cards, and when we educate our members, the house of cards comes crashing down.”

But there's a lot more going on further down the ballot. In Michigan, control of the state House is up for grabs, and the opportunity is there for organized labor to regain some control and stop all of the antiunion legislation that has been imposed over the past six years.

There are also opportunities on the ballots to elect labor-friendly candidates for offices on the local, county and state levels, boards of education trustees as well as representatives in Congress and judges on the bench.

“Michigan’s labor movement is united and ready to elect candidates up and down the ballot this November who will have the backs of working people,” said Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “We need leaders in Lansing and Washington who have a strong track record of fighting for quality schools, good jobs, and strong wages for Michigan’s working families. That’s why the Michigan AFL-CIO and our affiliates are ready to knock on doors, make phone calls, and mobilize our members across the state to win these important races on Nov. 8.”

There are a wide variety of political offices, and candidates, on Michigan voters' ballots this fall. Organized labor can't make all the candidates like us or vote for our issues - but in many ways the ballot box represents labor's only way to begin to insist on higher wages, better trade deals, reducing impediments to union organizing, upholding prevailing wage and the ability to undertake project labor agreements, and long-term, getting rid of the state's onerous right-to-work law.

Down the ballot, there are all manner of offices that are important to the trades. Board of education trustees choose when to put construction bond issues on the ballot - then hire contractors to do the work. County commissioners have similar control over purses and contracting. Judges can rule on matters like local workplace rules, and even overturn the state legislature. And local officials like city clerks and prosecutors often move up to even more influential jobs, and it's helpful to have them on labor's side when they're starting out.

"The local races are always a stepping stone for candidates who will later move up on the ballot," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Director Patrick "Shorty" Gleason. "So it's vital that we start there, with the county commissioners, the school boards, to bring in people who understand prevailing wage, who understand our other issues. In fact, I've been saying, when candidates come knocking on your door, ask them where they stand on prevailing wage. Tell them it's important to you, and it should be important to them."

Statewide, elections for the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and all the state Senate positions are not on this year's ballot. But this year, control of the state House is at stake, with all 110 seats being on the ballot. The affect of redistricting has left conservative GOP lawmakers firmly in control of the House with a 61-46 advantage, and they have taken full advantage of that position by implementing a bevy of anti-union legislation over the past few years. It will be a tall order for labor-friendlier Democrats to flip the House, but the goal is to at least get in the ballpark.

"The number of highly competitive House seats has shrunk to as few as a dozen, and less than (four) weeks remain until Election Day," says the latest edition of Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter. "What's more, the GOP maintains a sizable fundraising advantage in nearly every targeted race." IMP added, "yet, several House races could turn on the Snyder factor," given the governor's unpopularity over the Flint water crisis.

IMP thinks Dems may be able to shrink the Republican advantage in the House on Election Day to a 51-47 advantage, which would get labor a bit more able to sway moderate GOP lawmakers and head off more anti-union legislation.

"It's really been since 2010 that we have had to fight all this anti-labor legislation in Lansing," Gleason said. "And its imperative that we get that gap closed in the state House. Until we get it back in the control of the Democrats, we're going to continue to be in a bind."

The top of the ballot - the presidential election - typically drives greater participation of voters than in non presidential years. According to Pew Research, U.S. turnout in the 2012 presidential election was 53.6 percent, based on 129.1 million votes cast and an estimated voting-age population of just under 241 million people. That number has been fairly consistent over the past several decades. Since 1980, Pew said voting-age turnout has varied within a 9-percentage-point range – from 48 percent in 1996, when Bill Clinton was re-elected, to 57 percent in 2008, when Barack Obama won the White House.

Organized labor typically sees better turnout of their voters during presidential election years. Labor leaders who have nearly unanimously endorsed Clinton for president, are hoping to elect a more labor-friendly Supreme Court and Congress.

"So get on your feet, Democrats," said the AFL-CIO's Trumka at the Democratic National Convention this summer. "Let’s change the rules. Let’s take back Congress. Let’s win a pro-worker Supreme Court. And let’s elect Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States."