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Labor’s Love Lost



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While last night’s results disappointed conservatives, there were some bright-spots. Many of the voters who reelected  President Obama also voted to support conservative policies at the state level, especially on labor issues.

Over the past two years conservative Midwest governors have turned their states’ government and economies around by tackling unions’ special privileges. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker balanced his states’ budget by curtailing collective bargaining and reducing government compensation. A union-backed referendum blocked Ohio governor John Kasich’s attempt to enact similar reforms. Michigan governor Rick Snyder required state employees to contribute more toward their pension and health-care benefits.  Indiana governor Mitch Daniels signed a right-to-work law making union membership voluntary and attracting investment to the state.

In response, unions vowed in ads to “remember in November.” They spent heavily to defeat conservative legislators across the Midwest. In Michigan, they funded a ballot proposal to preemptively ban right-to-work and make collective bargaining a state constitutional right. The measure would allow union contracts to override state law, voiding all Snyder’s reforms.

Their efforts failed. Even as Midwesterners voted to reelect Obama, they also voted against the union-backed candidates. Michigan voters rejected making collective-bargaining powers a “right” by a 58–42 margin. Michigan Republicans also held onto their majorities in the legislature. In Wisconsin, Republicans aligned with Governor Walker’s agenda retook the state senate. Republicans expanded their margins in Indiana to better than two-thirds of the legislature. Ohio Republicans also expanded their legislative majority.

There were some dark spots — California voters rejected a paycheck-protection proposal. But in states where conservatives enacted labor reforms, voters decided to stay the course. Conservatives should take this lesson to heart: Even some of Obama’s supporters do not want the government run to benefit unions.

— James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.



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