Despite rhetoric and union influence, lawmakers may have less to fear than expected when reining in union power according to a video released Tuesday by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Pursuing policies that rein in union power can be a tough decision for lawmakers. Unions often threaten to use their vast political influence against those that seek such reforms. According to the Mackinac Center, such threats may be more hype than substance despite the political influence unions hold. The video looked at how some politicians fare in elections after reforming laws to limit union power.
“Unions and the politicians they put into office try to stop pro-worker and pro-taxpayer labor reforms by threatening and intimidating legislators politically,” Mackinac Center Director of Labor Policy F. Vincent Vernuccio said in a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But the past five years show that voters reward elected officials who courageously work for the people rather than special interests.”
The video focused on Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan from 2011 to 2014. Within the last five years, each state has passed a labor reform policy known as right-to-work. The policy outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. It is highly contested by labor unions. As noted in the video, despite threats by the labor movement, lawmakers involved in the reforms fared well.
The video follows a report released during the summer looking at the same topic. Both the report and new video found politicians that support reforms were able to hold their seat and in some cases open more seats up to their party. The video notes that no lawmaker in Michigan who voted in favor of the policy lost in the general election. This despite the fact that the state is known as a union stronghold. It has high membership rates and was the birthplace of United Automobile Workers (UAW).
“Lawmakers who might otherwise fear making necessary reforms can rest assured that big labor’s bark appears to be much worse than its bite,” Vernuccio added. “Voters side with elected officials who support pro-worker and pro-taxpayer policies.”
Nevertheless, unions do have significant political influence. They can rally crowds and tend to contribute a lot during elections. They also don’t shy from attacking politicians that seek to enact policies they don’t like. This was particularly true for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who has had to face several huge rallies and media attacks from the most powerful unions.
It started in 2011 with the passage of a reform package known as Act 10. The measure allowed state employees to choose if they wanted to pay union dues. It also required public unions to hold a renewal vote every couple of years to determine if workers still wanted them.
The labor movement did all it could to oppose the law. At the time, thousands of protesters descended on the Wisconsin Capitol to rally against the act. They surrounded the outside and occupied much of the building. Walker was able to outlast the protests. Afterwards opponents even tried to get Walker thrown out of office with a recall election in 2012.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka Nov. 17 predicted Walker would lose in the 2014 midterm. He argued his reforms were just too unpopular. Despite this, Walker won reelection. Less than a year after his victory Mar. 9, Republicans in the state legislature passed their own right-to-work measure.
His promise to rein in union power nationally, though, didn’t seem to help Walker during the 2015 Republican presidential primary. Not long after revealing his national labor reform proposal Sept. 15, his poll numbers plummeted. Walker eventually had to step out of the race.