Labor unions blamed the sluggish economy and a Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on corporate spending for the heavy Democratic midterm losses.
Several unions spent tens of millions of dollars on campaign ads, direct mail and get-out-the-vote operations in a massive effort to keep Democrats in power. It wasn’t nearly enough to stop a GOP wave that has given Republicans somewhere around 60 new seats in the House.
“This election was about the economy and jobs, plain and simple. It was a mandate to fix the economy and create jobs,” Trumka said on a conference call.
Surveys suggest many voters were worried about government spending, and the stimulus bill backed by unions appears to have been an albatross for many Democrats across the country. Republicans, who in holding majorities in the House and Senate during the George W. Bush administration drove up the budget deficit, voted against the stimulus en masse and have criticized Democratic spending. They also insist they’ve learned from the mistakes they made while in power.
Trumka pointed to an AFL-CIO-commissioned poll on election night to argue most voters disagree with some Republican principles. The poll found voters are against privatizing Social Security, abolishing the Education Department and letting tax cuts continue for those making more than $250,000 a year, Trumka said.
Most of the Republican Party wants to extend all of the Bush tax cuts regardless of income, and several candidates have called for the end of the Education Department. Some Republicans have also called for reforms to Social Security that Democrats say would risk making the system insolvent.
Trumka and union officials had a few victories on Tuesday.
Labor workers in Nevada helped Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDraft House bill ignites new Yucca Mountain fight Week ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road MORE (D-Nev.) win a victory; Reid won the labor vote by a 40-point margin.
Union members also favored West Virginia Gov. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Congress nears deal on help for miners Senate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general MORE (D) in his state’s Senate race by 24 points, and Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerAnother day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs Carly Fiorina 'certainly looking at' Virginia Senate run Top Obama adviser signs with Hollywood talent agency: report MORE (D-Calif.) by 44 points, according to AFL-CIO polling.
But in a number of House races, it was bad news for labor and Democrats.
Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) had backing from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which sponsored ads attacking his GOP opponent. He still lost.
Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.), a former local union president for Unite Here and a staunch free-trade critic, was defeated despite heavy support from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Other labor-backed Democrats, including Reps. Tom Perriello (Va.), Harry Teague (N.M.) and Dina Titus (Nev.), also went down in defeat.
Trumka said the AFL-CIO was happy with its operation but would still review its election-year program.
“We are actually going to go back and look at what we have done, what things were done that were effective,” Trumka said. “Things that weren’t effective will be revamped in our program significantly.”
Several labor leaders blamed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision earlier this year that let corporations and unions spend unlimited amounts from their general treasury funds on political campaigns.
Though the decision lifted restrictions on business groups and labor, union officials said it gave an unfair advantage to business.
“We’re back to the way elections were run in the United States 100 years ago, when the big trusts and robber barons made sure theirs were the only voices heard,” Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, said in a statement.
Other unions began to readjust to the Republican Congress by calling on the GOP-controlled House to move on legislation both parties can agree upon.
“Throughout our history, investing in building America has been a bipartisan mission,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
O’Sullivan said Congress could pass a six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that “would begin to put our nation back on competitive footing in the world, return millions of Americans to work and leave a lasting legacy for taxpayers and future generations.”
In an op-ed Wednesday on The Huffington Post, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said Congress needs to put the elections behind it and extend unemployment benefits.
“Congress needs to get back to Washington and immediately extend unemployment benefits set to expire on Nov. 30. Far too many families are living on the brink, and we cannot allow millions more to fall through the cracks at the end of the month,” Henry wrote.
Like other union officials, Trumka said Republicans will have to take more responsibility on righting the economy since they have gained control of the House.
“Now they have to govern. They have to put forth proposals that create jobs,” Trumka said. “If do they create jobs, we will stand with them. If they don’t, we will keep pushing them until they do create jobs.”