The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Monday, November 21, 2011

Michigan, Ohio send messages to overreaching Republican lawmakers

By The Building Tradesman

Election Day results delivered a jolt to anti-worker lawmakers in Michigan and a major shock to those in Ohio, delivered by voters upset that workers, unions and the middle class are being scapegoated for economic troubles.

In Michigan, Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) was the victim of a recall effort – the first successful recall of a Michigan lawmaker since 1983. Scott earlier this year joined a Republican voting bloc to cut $1 billion from K-12 schools and impose a new tax on seniors’ pensions, while simultaneously giving a huge tax break to corporations in the state.

That vote by Scott and other Republican lawmakers was followed by a long list of anti-worker, anti-union laws that have been adopted or are under consideration in Michigan. Democrats, the minority party in both the state House and Senate, have been powerless to stop any of it.

As chairman of the House Education Committee, Scott was targeted for recall by money and muscle from the Michigan Education Association, and he was narrowly recalled. A huge GOP counter-effort, with multiple campaign and fundraising visits by Gov. Rick Snyder, failed to turn the tide for Scott. Republicans still hold a wide majority in the state House.

“This election should be a wake-up call for Gov. Snyder about what happens when politicians go too far,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift. “Voters in Michigan want to see action that creates jobs and creates an economy that works for everyone. We can start heading in the right direction by passing legislation like a federal jobs bills that will repair deficient bridges and roads and get Michiganders back to work.”

The vote in Ohio to repeal Senate Bill 5 was a seen as a potential game-changer for union workers. Republican Gov. John Kasich led SB 5 through the Republican-led state Legislature earlier this year. The new anti-union law banned public sector strikes, restricted bargaining rights for 360,000 public employees and ended binding arbitration of management-labor disputes law. It also made it more difficult for police and firefighters to negotiate for safety equipment and training, and made it illegal for nurses, hospital and health care workers to demand reasonable staffing levels.

A multi-union-backed effort garnered 1.3 million signatures to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that anti-SB 5 groups raised an astounding $30 million to overturn the law. It was easily overturned, 61-39 percent. Politico said “unions hung a humbling defeat on Kasich, who has fast become his party’s poster boy for conservative overreach.”

Throughout this year, bouyed by Republican majorities in their respective state Legislatures, Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Rick Scott, Michigan Gov. Snyder and other governors have sponsored historic anti-union legislation. The union backlash resulted in a failed effort in Wisconsin to recall six senators in order to win Democratic control of that body (two of them were recalled).

Both Democrats and Republicans view Ohio’s SB 5 “as a referendum on labor’s strength – and on the overall political atmosphere – in a key industrial swing state heading into 2012,” said an Election Day article in the Washington Post. “For labor a victory would be particularly satisfying: It would challenge the right’s preferred narrative, which holds that the failure to take back the state senate in Wisconsin signaled that labor is headed for irreversible decline and that the conservative drive to break unions is on the march all over the country.”

In Michigan, the successful recall of Sen. Scott is on a smaller-scale, but is a potentially telling effort.

“This should serve as a wake-up call to Lansing politicians and their special interest friends that there is a price to pay for turning your back on the middle class,” said Zack Pohl of We Are the People Michigan blog. “It’s clear voters are rejecting the anti-worker agenda of politicians like Paul Scott and John Kasich. Now it’s time for our elected leaders to stop the power struggles and start working together to create good jobs that pay a fair wage, and invest in education to give our kids a better future.”