The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 16, 2018

Union voters help themselves on Election Day

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Beginning Jan. 1, 2019 and for the next four years, at least, Michigan's labor unions won't have to worry about having little influence on the next anti-worker legislation that the state Legislature will be cooking up.

Democratic candidate Gretchen Whitmer's victory over Republican Bill Schuette will take care of that - Whitmer has vowed to have labor's back and will veto any further attempted legislative damage to the state's working families. Her election is too late to save the state from right to work, unemployment insurance cuts and prevailing wage repeal - but it will stop further GOP attacks against working people.

“This is a resounding victory for Michigan’s working families who made a clear statement for where they want to see our state head," said Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, the day after the Nov. 6 election. "Gretchen Whitmer has always been a champion of working people and her administration will be one that protects our freedoms in the workplace. Working folks have seen eight years of corporate special interests manipulating the rules, and today people said they’d had enough. We’re setting a new course in Michigan, one where we create an economy that works for everyone. We now have a governor who will fix the damn roads, make education a priority, and put the needs of the people first."

Before the election, with strong GOP majorities in both houses of state government, pundits said it would be a major stretch for organized labor to win a friendly Democratic majority in the state Senate, but winning back the state House was a bit less of mountain to climb. Turns out post-election that both houses are still in Republican control, but with less of a majority in each. The Senate will have a 22-16 GOP majority next year (down from a 27-11 supermajority). 

"Nobody can consider this a loss," state Sen. Curtis Hertel told MIRS. "Did anyone think we could have picked up five seats a year ago?" The state Senate hasn't seen a Democratic majority since 1983. The state House will also have a lessened Republican majority on Jan. 1 (58-52), with Democrats gaining five seats following the election.

Michigan was the poster child for being the year of the woman in politics, electing 51 women to the state Legislature on Nov. 6, beating the old record of 37 House and Senate members. At the top of the ticket, in addition to Whitmer in the governor's office, Dana Nessel (D) was voted in as attorney general and Jocelyn Benson (D) won a four-year term as the new secretary of state. On the state Supreme Court, Democrats reduced the 5-2 Republican advantage to 4-3 with the election of Megan Cavanaugh to the state's High Court.

More (worker-friendly) women are also going to Congress: Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) won her race for in the 8th District and Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) won in the 11th District. 

"I just think it's great that we're electing people who are more representative of the electorate," said IBEW Local 58 Registrar Jeannette Bradwhaw. "We did have a good turnout of union members with this election, and there were positive outcomes for the state's working people. But we have a lot of work to do to get our issues, our point of view out there."

And some other candidates with union associations who were endorsed by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and elected or re-elected to public office on Nov. 6 are sure to be worker-friendly: Steve Claywell, Kellogg Community College trustee; Jon DeRoo, Anchor Bay Board of Education trustee; Scott Hiller, Warren Woods Board of Education trustee; Matt Koleszar, State Representative, District 20; Val Pod, New Haven Board of Education trustee; Dana Polehanki, State Senator, District 7, and Grace Trudell, Howell Board of Education trustee. 

In Congress, Democrats flipped the House from Republican control, gaining 27 seats. Dems will now enjoy a 221-198 margin for the next two years. Republicans increased their hold on the U.S. Senate, and will now have a more comfortable 54-46 majority.

Beyond the union-member candidates themselves running for office, overall, the Michigan AFL-CIO said Nov. 8 that it "celebrated a significant increase in labor-endorsed candidates elected to office in Tuesday’s election, and declared a clear mandate for a pro-labor agenda in the coming legislative year."

The state labor federation said the wins in Michigan include 207 labor-endorsed candidates, including 77 candidates who are union members or come from union households.

“The labor movement helped elect an unprecedented wave of union members and pro-worker allies across Michigan on Tuesday. Voters sent a clear message to Lansing and Washington, D.C. that they want legislators who will support working people,” Bieber said. “With the clear mandate that labor secured in this election, it’s time we deliver pro-labor policies and clear results for working families. We’re excited to work with Gretchen Whitmer, Jocelyn Benson, Dana Nessel and the rest of those elected Tuesday to support our freedoms in the workplace and protect our ability to earn a fair return on our work.”