Labor Reform Not a Death Knell for Legislators After All

Timeline shows reformer success in later elections

Labor Reform in the States

"There will be blood. There will be repercussions." Such is the common threat made against those who dare take on the union juggernaut.

Michigan’s State Rep. Shenelle Jackson (D-Detroit) made the threat clear in 2012 during the passage of that state’s law on worker freedom. "What you're doing today will only serve to empower [Democrats]. We will win back this chamber, possibly take the Senate back and certainly win the governorship.”

Unfortunately for Rep. Jackson and her allies, the exact opposite happened. Not a single state representative or senator who voted for right-to-work lost in the general election and the Republican governor, Rick Snyder won re-election.

Since Michigan has the ballot initiative, unions could have gone straight to the voters with a canvassing campaign to put a repeal on the ballot. They did not. And right-to-work was such a nonissue in the 2014 election that during the one debate that happened, neither candidate brought it up, and the only time it was mentioned, it was as a sub-part of another issue.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

A new interactive timeline from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Labor Reform in the States,” shows that Michigan’s experience is common to the states that have recently passed reforms. 

The timeline examines labor reforms from 2011 to 2014 as well as the subsequent elections in Midwestern states long considered union strongholds.

Despite massive protests and threats from unions and the politicians they support, brave elected officials that backed reforms almost universally won re-election.

The election after Indiana passed right-to-work, Republicans picked up nine seats in the Senate and did not lose any in the House. Gov. Mitch Daniels, who signed the worker-freedom law into effect, did not return to office; being term-limited, he could not be on the ballot. Another Republican, Mike Pence, replaced him.

Wisconsin saw perhaps the largest protests against government union reforms when, in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 10, which strongly curtailed government union privileges. State and national union attempts to undo the reforms and unseat Walker failed miserably.

From 2012-2014, Walker won both a recall and general election. Republicans keep majorities in both the Wisconsin State Assembly and the Wisconsin Senate. In several smaller elections that were considered referendums on Act 10, voters refused to send politicians to Madison to undo it.

In Ohio, the same voters who repealed Gov. John Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, another bill that would have curtailed government union privileges, re-elected him, and kept Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.

Reformers winning cannot be dismissed as Republicans getting lucky in a few wave elections.  For at the same time voters were siding with reformers and electing Republicans to state offices, they were also sending Democrats to Washington and supporting President Obama.

The lesson from the victories of elected officials who took on big labor over the last few years is clear: Voters will side with those that support pro-worker and pro-taxpayer policies.

 (Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared on the Illinois Policy Institute Blog.)

Related Articles:

Public Safety Workers in Michigan Now Enjoy Right-to-Work

Unions Admit Forcing People to Pay Dues is Political

Incomes Rise in Right-to-Work Michigan; Officials Project More To Come

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Pivotal Right-to-Work Case

Rumors of Unions' Post-Right-to-Work Death Exaggerated

Free The Unions — Let Workers Who Don't Pay Represent Themselves