The election of pro-union Democrats to executive positions in New York and Virginia could boost the labor agenda, according to labor watchdogs.
Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli on Tuesday 48 percent to 45.5 percent in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. McAuliffe, one of the Democratic Party’s premier fundraisers over the past two decades, outraised and outspent Cuccinelli with the help of an outpour of cash from organized labor.
Having a Democratic governor in Richmond is a good investment for labor groups, according to Fred Wszolek, spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute.
"No one has been a better bag man for union money than Terry McAuliffe," he said. "He’s going to bide his time, but he’ll eventually hand the keys to the capital to unions. Virginia doesn’t know what it’s getting here."
Virginia is a right to work state and does not allow coercive union representation. Organized labor has been trying to undermine the law for years, according to National Right to Work Foundation spokesman Patrick Semmens.
"Terry McAuliffe … refuses to answer the national right to work survey which asks first and foremost if he will defend Virginia’s popular right to work law," he said. "McAuliffe’s victory will be a bad sign for independent employees who wish to remain free from union ranks."
McAuliffe avoided labor issues, such as whether he supports secret ballots in union elections, on the campaign trail. Wszolek said Virginia residents can expect pro-labor policies to emerge from the governor’s mansion over the next four years.
"[Republicans] weren’t as effective at putting labor issues at the front in this election because McAuliffe didn’t have the voting record of [2009 Democratic candidate Creigh] Deeds," he said. "Unions don’t just give money—they expect something."
McAuliffe wasn’t the only pro-union candidate to win big on Tuesday. New York City Democrat Bill De Blasio trounced Republican Joe Lhota in the mayoral race. Unlike Virginia’s governor-elect, De Blasio has been open about his pro-union agenda.
He bested a crowded Democratic primary field with key endorsements from city unions, including the politically powerful SEIU Local 1199, and raised tens of thousands of dollars from organized labor during the general election by exploiting campaign finance loopholes.
J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, suggested de Blasio will be quick to reward them and may undo hard-fought reforms to the city’s school system.
"De Blasio's election marks a new day for New York City’s unions. Nothing confirms this suspicion more than the rumor this week that he may appoint AFT president Randi Weingarten—whose union poured millions into his campaign—as his new school chancellor," Wilson said. "The real casualties will be the thousands of inner city kids who currently benefit from the positive school reforms enacted under Mayors [Rudy] Guiliani and [Michael] Bloomberg, which offer a way out of failing schools."
Wszolek said a De Blasio administration will hurt New Yorkers by driving up costs in an already expensive city.
"The teachers union is very active in picking the people they negotiate with. Appointing Weingarten is more brazen than what we see at every school district," he said. "It should be a great business move for moving vans. People are going to end up fleeing the city."
Unions also won victories on ballot initiatives, including raising the minimum wage in Seattle suburbs. Maine voters approved new bonds that will add $150 million in debt to the state, and Cincinnati rejected pension reforms.
The union agenda wasn’t entirely successful on Tuesday. Colorado voters shot down a union-backed $1 billion tax increase that would have benefitted teachers unions.
Meanwhile, San Francisco approved a pension reform package, and Hialeah, a Miami, Fla., suburb, passed pension cuts.
"Unions have been in the ballot proposition business for years because they haven’t been effective at getting state legislatures to listen to them," Wszolek said. "Voters are seeing this for what it is: a special interest looking for access to the state constitution and treasury."