The workers’ rights battle continued in state capitols around the country in April and May as Republican majorities passed anti-union laws — and unions revved up opposition, repeal and recall campaigns. Polls have continued to show an edge in public support for union rights.
In Wisconsin, the draconian anti-union law that set off a defensive uprising was struck down May 26 by a Dane County Circuit Court judge. The law takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights from public-sector workers. But Republican lawmakers violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law when they passed it — holding a surprise vote without a hearing, public testimony, or even two hours public notice — and that renders the law void, the judge ruled. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear a separate lawsuit over the case on June 6.
Meanwhile, three Republican state senators who voted for the law face a July 12 recall vote, thanks to volunteers who gathered over 15,000 signatures needed. Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board reviewed recall petitions for three other Republican senators on May 31, but had not set a recall election date for them as of press time.
Earlier, the two sides battled it out in a special state Supreme Court election April 5 in which challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg came within a few hundred votes of defeating incumbent conservative David Prosser, a former Republican speaker of the Assembly. In the primary, Prosser had 55 percent of the vote to Kloppenburg’s 28 percent; but the race became a proxy for supporters and opponents of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his anti-union campaign.
A race for Milwaukee County executive also became largely about Walker and his policies. In that case, Democrat Chris Abele defeated Republican state Rep. Jeff Stone for the seat Walker held before he was elected governor in November. Stone voted for Walker’s bill, and lost the election 39 to 61 percent.
Here’s how the union battle fared in other states:
We Are Ohio, a coalition of union supporters, is gathering signatures to refer anti-union Senate Bill 5 to voters on the November ballot. The group has until June 30 to collect 231,000 valid signatures; as of May 20, it had 214,399, but it’s aiming for 400,000 to make sure enough of them are valid. In a mid-May poll by Quinnipiac University, 54 percent of Ohioans favor repeal of SB 5. Sponsored by Republican Gov. John Kasich and passed by a Republican-led Legislature, SB 5 strips collective bargaining rights from about 360,000 Ohio public employees.
Meanwhile, a Republican state senator who faced heavy criticism for his vote in favor of the bill announced May 24 that he will leave office in July. SB 5 passed by one vote in the Senate.
In April, the Republican-led House and Senate passed so-called “right-to-work” legislation that would weaken private sector unions, but Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed it May 11. As of press time, Republicans had not yet been able to hold their supermajority together to override the veto. It takes two-thirds to override. If they do override the veto, New Hampshire would become the 23rd “right-to-work” state, and the only one north of Virginia. Right-to-work is misnamed because it doesn’t actually give anyone a job or a right to one; instead, it makes dues optional for union-represented workers, thereby reducing union resources.
On April 20, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed a law that limits teacher collective bargaining to salary and benefits. Under the new law, unions may not bargain over teacher evaluation procedures, and contracts may not extend past the budget biennium.
On May 21, a bill curbing teacher collective bargaining rights passed the state House 55-40 and Senate 19-12 and was expected to be signed into law. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
The Idaho Education Association is working with a parent-led group, Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, to collect signatures to put a series of education “reform” bills passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to a vote of the people in 2012.
The new laws signed by the governor kill all union contracts in place for Idaho teachers on June 30, prohibit future collective bargaining over benefits and salaries, eliminate teacher tenure, and creates a merit-pay system.
The union also has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation.
Unions and supporters were able to beat back attempts to weaken state employee bargaining rights, as well as a bill to ban payroll deduction of state employee union dues and political contributions. The state Legislature adjourned for the year on May 7.