By Don McIntosh
Around the nation and in Oregon and Washington, union political efforts bore fruit on election night.
THE RETURN OF A DEMOCRATIC HOUSE While most Americans didn’t vote on Nov. 6, the estimated 114 million who did delivered control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats for the first time in eight years. Whether or not it was a referendum on the Trump administration, it was a clear rejection of his party after Republicans passed the biggest corporate tax cut ever and tried but failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Come January, Democrats’ new 228-207 majority in the House will mean deadlock or compromise in Congress for the next two years. That means any further plans by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act or monkey with “entitlements” like Social Security are moot. It’s unclear whether Democrats will cooperate to pass Trump’s slightly improved NAFTA replacement agreement with Canada and Mexico. With Republicans still in control of the Senate and White House, Democrats won’t be able to pass their own legislation, but they will be able to model what a future Democratic Congress could deliver. Let’s hope that includes labor’s agenda of a higher minimum wage, infrastructure investment, and an easier path to a union.
SAYONARA, SCOTT WALKER, AND BYE-BYE TO BRUCE RAUNER The 2018 election had many sweet results for union members, but perhaps none sweeter than the defeat of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Illinois governor Bruce Rauner. Walker famously stripped Wisconsin public employees of their collective bargaining rights in 2010, and later signed an anti-union right-to-work law and a repeal of the prevailing wage. He then touted that anti-union record in his failed 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination for president. Wisconsin voters finally had enough of his one-two combo of slashing corporate taxes and public school budgets, and voted by a narrow margin to elect state school superintendent Tony Evers, a former school teacher. Then there was Rauner, a private equity fund billionaire who attacked public employee union members and their pensions immediately after taking office as Illinois governor in 2015. It was his federal lawsuit against public employee unions that became the notorious Janus v AFSCME case — in which the U.S. Supreme Court made America a “right-to-work” nation for public employees. Rauner was defeated by billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker in a campaign in which both candidates spent a considerable part of their fortune: Pritzker spent $175 million, and Rauner $50 million.
A UNION ORGANIZER GOES TO CONGRESS Michigan voters elected a former union organizer to Congress. Andy Levin helped unionize health care workers into SEIU in the mid ‘80s, and later served on President Bill Clinton’s labor law reform commission. At the national AFL-CIO, he set up the Union Summer and Voice@Work programs, and lobbied Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Now he’ll serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the Southeast Michigan seat formerly held by his father, Sander Levin.
‘IRONSTACHE’ COMES UP SHORT Union ironworker Randy “Ironstache” Bryce failed to win the seat vacated by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Bryce originally ran to challenge Ryan, but in April, Ryan announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election. In the end, Ryan’s former staffer Brian Steila won the Republican-leaning district by 55 to 42 percent, after a well-funded campaign that skipped over bread-and-butter policy issues and focused instead on Bryce’s past arrest for DUII and failure to pay child support.
A ‘RED FOR ED’ WAVE IN TEACHER STRIKE STATES Record numbers of teachers ran for office in Republican-led states where teachers struck for higher pay earlier this year, and on election night, some of them won. A least 19 current or former teachers won election to the Arizona Legislature (out of 51 who ran); at least 21 won election to the Arizona Legislature (out of 58); and at least 10 won election to the Kentucky Legislature (out of 36). However, teacher-union-backed Democratic candidates fell well short of winning governors races in Oklahoma and Arizona, and control of the state legislatures remained in Republican hands in West Virginia and Arizona. Arizona voters did overwhelmingly reject a ballot measure that would have expanded a program that allows families to pay for private school tuition with public funds.
BALLOT MEASURES AROUND THE NATION
Voters in Republican-leaning states rejected the Republican agenda: They voted to raise the minimum wage and expand Medicaid. But voters around the country also rejected measures to tax the rich and tobacco, put a price on carbon, repeal a ban on rent control, and set nurse staffing ratios.
RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE Arkansas and Missouri voters passed big increases in the minimum wage. Arkansas’ wage will rise to $11 by 2021, affecting one quarter of the state’s workers. Missouri’s will rise to $12 over the next five years, lifting standards for more than 675,000 workers.
EXPAND MEDICAID Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah — heavily Republican states that Trump won easily in 2016 — approved citizen-led ballot measures to sign on to Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid — the government health insurance program for low-income Americans — has always combined state and federal funding, with the feds historically paying on average 57 percent. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (popularly known as Obamacare) expanded Medicaid eligibility to all Americans up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and the federal government paid 100 percent of the cost for those newly eligible, an amount that drops gradually to 90 percent in 2020. But a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made the Medicaid expansion optional for the states, and 17 Republican-dominated states refused to take part in it, turning away billions of dollars in federal aid and leaving millions of low-income Americans in those states uninsured. That’s what voters in repudiated on Nov. 6 in the three states where they had the chance. As a result, an estimated 302,000 individuals in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah will now be eligible for Medicaid. In Montana, though, voters narrowly rejected a $2 a pack cigarette tax to pay the state’s portion of the Medicaid expansion, which covers 96,000 people. Montana’s Republican legislature expanded Medicaid in 2015, but only for a four-year period that ends next July, and they haven’t come up with the 10 percent match to extend it. Hospitals stepped up and sponsored ballot measure I-185 as one solution. Tobacco companies spent $17 million opposing it — in a state with fewer than 200,000 smokers.
END FORCED PRISON LABOR Colorado voters approved Amendment A by nearly 65 percent, ending a provision in the Colorado state constitution that says prisoners can be forced to do unpaid labor as part of their punishment.
TAX THE RICH AND CORPORATIONS TO PAY FOR SCHOOLS? NO Colorado voters rejected Amendment 73 by a 55-to-45 percent margin. Backed by unions, the measure would have raised $1.6 billion for schools by increasing income taxes to 5 and 8.25 percent for people earning above $150,000 per year, and increasing the corporate tax rate to 6 percent. The state currently has a flat tax rate of 4.63 percent on all incomes, personal or corporate. Meanwhile, voters in North Carolina actually lowered the top income tax rate.
CAP INTEREST ON PAYDAY LOANS Colorado Proposition 111, which passed with 77 percent support, restricts interest on payday loans to an annual rate of 36 percent and eliminates all other finance charges and fees.
SET NURSE-PATIENT RATIOS? NOPE Nurse-union-backed Massachusetts Question 1 would have limited the number of patients hospital nurses could be assigned. Led by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, measure supporters spent more than $10.6 million but the hospital industry spent over $26 million opposing it, and voters rejected the measure by 70 percent.
END BAN ON RENT CONTROL? NO Amid one of the worst affordable housing crises in the country, California Proposition 10 would have repealed a 1995 state law banning local rent control ordinances. But it went down to defeat 62 to 38 percent after landlords and realtors spent $74 million opposing it, three times as much as supporters spent. Blackstone Group, the world’s largest real estate management firm, led the opposition, spending more than $5.5 million. In the same election, voters approved Proposition 1, which authorizes the state to borrow $4 billion on the bond market to construct an estimated 50,000 units of low-income housing.
LIMIT DIALYSIS CLINIC PROFITEERING? NO The SEIU Healthcare Workers West union has been fighting for years to unionize two major dialysis chains in California, DaVita and Fresenius Medical Care North America. This year, the union authored California Proposition 8 to limit dialysis corporate revenues to 15 percent more than they spend on patient care. SEIU and its allies raised $18.9 million, but dialysis companies raised $111.0 million. Voters rejected it 62 to 38 percent.
TAKE AWAY PARAMEDICS’ RIGHT TO REST BREAKS? SURE After the California Supreme Court ruled that security officers had to be given duty-free meal and rest breaks like other workers, ambulance giant AMR financed California Proposition 11 to allow ambulance providers to require workers to remain on call during paid breaks. AMR spent $35 million; labor organizations, including the state AFL-CIO, opposed it. It passed 59 to 41 percent.
TO TACKLE HOMELESSNESS, TAX BIG COMPANIES Voters in San Francisco approved Proposition C by 60 percent, increasing taxes on big companies by $300 million to double the budget for housing and services for homeless people. The measure imposes a 0.5 percent gross receipts tax on corporate revenues above $50 million.
IMPROVE CONDITIONS FOR HOTEL WORKERS? YES AND YES In Oakland, voters approved Measure Z by 75 percent. For large hotels, it sets a $15 minimum wage, limits housecleaner workload, and requires that staff have a panic button to protect against sexual assault. And in Anaheim, businesses that have received city tax breaks will have to increase the minimum wage they pay employees — to $15 starting in January, rising to $18 an hour by 2022. Led by UNITE HERE Local 11, unions representing Disney workers collected the signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot. Disney fought hard against it, but a narrow majority of Anaheim voters decided it’s time the company raised its wages.
OREGON ELECTION HIGHLIGHTS
OREGON RE-ELECTED ALL 5 CONGRESSIONAL INCUMBENTS. NOW 4 OF THEM WILL BE IN THE MAJORITY Former AFSCME member Jamie McLeod Skinner came closer to beating Republican Greg Walden than any Democrat in the 22 years since he first ran. But she was still a long way from winning Oregon’s heavily-Republican 2nd Congressional District, which spans all of Oregon east of the Cascades. When the dust settled, the union-backed Democrat McLeod Skinner got 40 percent of the vote, compared to 57 percent for Walden. Oregon’s four other incumbents — Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, and Kurt Schrader — all won easily. All Democrats, they’ll now have a greater chance to enact legislation once their party takes control the House in January. Longtime infrastructure advocate Peter DeFazio is likely to chair the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a great spot from which to pressure President Trump to get serious about the $1 trillion infrastructure pledge he made during the 2016 presidential campaign.
FOUR MORE YEARS FOR GOVERNOR KATE BROWN As Oregon union officers and activists gathered on election night to watch results come in, no worry was greater than the thought that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown could lose re-election in what was thought to be a close race against Bend Republican Knute Buehler. It had become the most expensive political contest in Oregon history, and unions had worked very hard to turn out volunteers on her behalf. That’s because Brown had signed major legislation raising the minimum wage, mandating paid sick leave and funding transportation infrastructure, while Buehler voted against all those and campaigned on replacing public employee pensions with a 401(k). In the end, it wasn’t that close: Brown got 50 percent of the vote, and Buehler got 44 percent.
DEMOCRATS WIN THE LONG-SOUGHT LEGISLATIVE SUPER-MAJORITY Oregon Democrats picked up three seats in the state house and one in the state senate. Come January they’ll have a 38 to 22 House supermajority and a 18 to 12 Senate supermajority — and that means potentially the ability to pass major revenue reform for the first time in more than two decades. In Oregon, businesses pay the lowest overall taxes of any state in the country. That’s probably because of a 1996 ballot measure that requires a 3/5 legislative supermajority to raise taxes of any kind. Now, Democrats have more than 3/5, thanks to the four pickups: Senate District 3 (Ashland/ Medford), where Democrat Jeff Golden outpolled Republican Jessica Gomez; House District 37 (West Linn), where union nurse Rachel Prusak beat incumbent Republican Julie Parrish; House District 26 (Sherwood), where high school Spanish teacher Courtney Neron unseated incumbent Republican real estate lawyer Rep. Rich Vial; and House District 52 (Hood River), where social worker Anna Williams outpolled Republican incumbent Jeffrey Helfrich.
BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME FOR UNION MEMBER CANDIDATES? Winning with 52 percent, Prusak was the lone success story of the four Oregon union members who ran for the first time for the state Legislature this year, all Democrats. In Senate District 13 (Keizer), OSEA Local 17 president Sarah Grider, an educational assistant at Newberg High School, got 44 percent of the vote in her challenge to incumbent Republican Kim Thatcher. In House District 7 (Roseburg), AFSCME 2831 member Kristy Inskip — who was inspired to run after going on strike in Lane County —got 39 percent of the vote in her challenge to Republican incumbent Cedric Hayden. And in House District 19 (Salem) IBEW Local 280 electrician Mike Ellison got 47 percent of the vote in his challenge of Republican incumbent Denyc Boles.
Metro and county races
METRO Metro voters passed, by 58 percent, a $652.8 million bond to building affordable housing region-wide. They also elected Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries legislative director Christine Lewis as the new councilor for Metro District 2. Facing Lake Oswego City Council member Joe Buck, Lewis had the support of all but a few unions in the race.
CLACKAMAS COUNTY Scandal-plagued incumbent County Clerk Sherry Hall defeated a union-backed challenge by Pamela White, 52 percent to 48 percent.
COLUMBIA COUNTY Union-endorsed incumbent commissioner Henry Heimuller was easily re-elected with 63 percent of the vote.
LANE COUNTY With East Lane County candidate Heather Buch winning 56 percent of the vote, union activists in Lane County celebrated the take-back of the Lane County Commission — one year after a union-hostile majority provoked a strike by county workers. Buch’s win, following the May primary win of union-backed candidate Joe Berney, means a pro-union 3-2 majority will now preside at a County Commission that four years ago passed ordinances to undermine and overrule a City of Eugene paid sick leave ordinance.
MARION COUNTY Union-backed Shelaswau Crier failed (47 to 53) in her bid to unseat incumbent Republican county commissioner Kevin Cameron, a former state rep.
MULTNOMAH COUNTY Union-endorsed candidate Jennifer McGuirk won her race for Multnomah County auditor with 57 percent of the vote. And in a rare contested judicial race, union-endorsed incumbent Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Ben Souede got 67 percent against challenger Bob Callahan.
WASHINGTON COUNTY Current Metro Council member Kathryn Harrington, with broad union support, won 67 percent in her race against Bob Terry for Washington County Chair.
YAMHILL COUNTY Backed by SEIU and UFCW, marijuana farmer Casey Kulla defeated (56 to 44) incumbent Yamhill County Commissioner Stan Primozich, a financial advisor backed by county Republicans.
GLADSTONE NW Oregon Labor Council-backed Tammy Stempel was elected mayor, and Matt Tracy won his race for city council.
GRESHAM For Gresham City Council races, labor-endorsed incumbent Mario Palmero won easily in a field of six, but former Jobs with Justice board member Eddy Morales
lost narrowly to incumbent Kirk French. [UPDATE: As of Nov. 14, Morales had pulled ahead of incumbent Kirk French by 25 votes.]
HILLSBORO Union-backed incumbents Kyle Allen and Olivia Alcaire won re-election to Hillsboro City Council. Allen is a former union member and Working America canvasser. Both were endorsed by the NW Oregon Labor Council.
LAKE OSWEGO Eight candidates faced off for three city council positions, and two out of the four union-endorsed candidates won election: incumbent Jackie Manz and Bambuza restaurant chain owner Daniel Nguyen.
MILWAUKIE Mark Gamba, with support from the NW Oregon Labor Council, was elected mayor.
PORTLAND In the race for the seat held by City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, unions split over who to back: Public sector unions backed Jo Ann Hardesty while building trades unions and the NW Oregon Labor Council backed Loretta Smith. In the end, Hardesty won with 62 percent of the vote. Voters also approved the Clean Energy Jobs ballot measure by 65 percent. The measure was endorsed by the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council. It will tax the biggest companies doing business in Portland and use the proceeds to fund local conservation and renewable energy projects.
TIGARD Jason Snider, with support from the NW Oregon Labor Council, was elected mayor.
WASHINGTON ELECTION HIGHLIGHTS
JAMIE HERRERA BEUTLER BEATS LABOR-BACKED CHALLENGER Labor-supported incumbent U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell easily won re-election. But dashing the hopes of her union endorsers, Washington State University political science professor Carolyn Long came up short in her race against incumbent Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler. Long got 47 percent of the vote, more than any other challenger since Herrera Beutler won office in 2010. Prior to Herrera Beutler, the seat was held for 12 years by a Democrat, Brian Baird. The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, did celebrate one notable Congressional win: union-endorsed Democrat Kim Schrier beat Dino Rossi to win the Congressional District east of Seattle that is currently held by Republican Dave Reichert. Rossi adds that loss to two lost races for Washington governor, and one race for U.S. Senate. His loss record is a relief for organized labor: When he served in the state legislature, Rossi had about the most anti-labor voting record of any legislator then or since.
BALLOT MEASURES: NO TO CLEAN ENERGY JOBS, YES TO POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY Unions were split on I-1631, the Clean Energy Jobs measure, which would have taxed fossil fuels to invest in wind and solar energy, public transit, and home efficiency upgrades. Most unions supported it, but some building trades unions opposed it. In the end it was fossil fuel money that won the day: Oil companies spent $31.5 million against it, and the measure went down to defeat with just 44 percent support. Washington voters did approve I-940, a measure on police use of deadly force. Broadly endorsed by unions, the measure requires that police be trained for violence de-escalation, mental health, and first aid, and it requires independent investigations of police use of deadly force. It passed with 59 percent support.
WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE: HOUSE AND SENATE WINS, BUT NOT IN SW WASHINGTON Democrats added three Senate seats and seven House seats to their legislative majorities; next year, they’ll control the Senate 28-20-1 and the House 57 to 41. But in contested Vancouver-area legislative races, all four union-backed Democrats lost. In Eastside Vancouver’s 17th Legislative District, Tanisha Harris got 49 percent against incumbent Vicki Kraft, a former employee of the anti-union Freedom Foundation; and union-backed Damion Jiles got just 42 percent in his challenge to Republican incumbent Paul Harris. In Clark County’s 18th Legislative District, union-backed Chris Thobaben and Kathy Gillespie got 44 percent and 47 percent respectively. Southwest Washington does still have a few labor-friendly legislators though: In the 49th Legislative District (Vancouver), Sharon Wylie and Monica Stonier ran unopposed for re-election. And in Longview-area Legislative District 19, union-backed Brian Blake easily won re-election.
CLARK COUNTY Three of the five union-backed candidates for county office won: Temple Lentz won her race for County Council with 60 percent support; Alishia Topper won county treasurer with 69 percent; and incumbent Assessor Peter Van Nortwick won re-election with 60 percent support. But Eric Holt, a former shop steward in Teamsters Local 162, lost a very close race for county chair, with the support of 49.7 percent of those voting. And County Clerk employee and OPEIU Local 11 president Barbara Melton lost her race for County Clerk, garnering 47 percent of the vote. Union-endorsed Clark Public Utility District Commissioner Jim Malinowski won re-election with 56 percent support.
VANCOUVER Union-backed Laurie Lebowsky won re-election to Vancouver City Council with 52 percent of the vote.