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A Hollow Victory for Public Employee Unions

Public employee unions can be largely satisfied with their massive investment in Tuesday’s elections.

In Ohio, unions won a 61% victory in a referendum shooting down Governor John Kasich’s reform of collective bargaining rights, capitalizing on the governor’s inept campaign and enthusiastic turnout by union members. 

In Michigan, teacher unions narrowly recalled Paul Scott, the GOP chairman of the state House Education Committee, punishing him for his votes to change teacher tenure rules. 

And in New Jersey, union money prevented Governor Chris Christie from picking up any seats for Republicans in the state legislature.

In less unionized states, Republicans continued to make gains. They won 2-1 control of the Virginia House of Delegates and, pending a recount, took effective control of the Virginia State Senate. Mississippi Republicans may have won control of both houses of the state legislature since the 1870s – when the state was under Union occupation.

But the big marquee victory in Ohio will convince labor to redouble its efforts in that key swing state on behalf of President Obama

The law unions overturned was passed by Kasich and the GOP legislature earlier this year and would have ended the mandatory collection of union dues for all public sector workers, including police and firefighters. Employees would also have had to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums and allocate 10 percent of their salary for pensions.

But the union victory also carries with it some optical problems. Ohio has an $8 billion budget deficit and Governor Kasich has insisted no taxes will be raised to close it. Absent the flexibility in public sector union contracts that his just-defeated bill had imposed, he will now likely have to cut the budgets of local governments – leading them to layoff workers now that they are blocked from reorganizing workplaces. The firehouse in Lancaster, Ohio had to close last month and layoff 13 workers because it was prevented from changing archaic work rules that would have allowed them to save jobs.

AFL-CIO’s President Richard Trumka says the victory in Ohio should send a message to elected officials everywhere: “Go in and make war on your employees rather than make jobs with your employees, and you do so at your own peril.”

But the days of endlessly expanding state and local budgets are over, and Trumka and his union buddies may soon have to explain to their members why so many of their least senior colleagues may lose their jobs in order that more senior members can keep their gold-plated health and pension benefits. More senior members may go along with his strategy out of pure self-interest, but the illusion of unions working in solidarity for the good of all of their members will be exposed as a hollow promise.

John Fund is Senior Editor, American Spectator and author of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy" (Encounter Books).

John Fund is National Affairs columnist for National Review magazine.