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Trump’s wins in Wisconsin, Michigan expose labor’s soft underbelly

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On Christmas Eve, the ABC News website posted a warning to liberals that “Republicans to Target Unions, Expand School Choice in States.” Just three days later, we learned that Service Employees International Union – among the nation’s most profligate donors to leftist candidates and causes – plans a 30 percent budget cut over the next year.

A coincidence? Hardly.

{mosads}Taken together, the stories provide further circumstantial evidence of the still-under-reported reality that organized labor in general and government employee unions in particular have been weakened by recent developments to the point where they can no longer sway national elections.

And Republicans smell blood in the water.

In the days following Donald Trump’s stunning (to the mainstream media, at least) election as the nation’s 45th president, published news accounts documented the weakness of the Clinton campaign’s ground game not only in hotly contested states like Ohio and Pennsylvania but also in the traditionally blue states of Wisconsin and Michigan.

In a Nov. 16 piece headlined, “The Clinton Campaign Was Undone by Its Own Neglect and a Touch of Arrogance,” the Huffington Post recounted that Hillary operatives in Michigan and Wisconsin reported a critical shortage of boots on the ground to knock on doors, man the phone banks and herd Democratic voters to the polls.

In Michigan alone, the Clinton campaign had roughly one-tenth as many paid canvassers as Sen. John Kerry deployed when he ran for president in 2004. 

A similar situation unfolded in Wisconsin, where the campaign’s state office and local officials scrambled to raise nearly $1 million for efforts to get out the vote in the closing weeks.

What Wisconsin and Michigan have in common – in addition to being traditional Democratic strongholds – is that, for both, 2016 marked the first national election since they passed right-to-work legislation, giving public employees in those states a choice about whether to pay dues or agency fees to union as a condition of employment.

And in the interim, thousands took advantage of the opportunity by opting out, blowing a huge hole in the revenue stream organized labor is accustomed to sharing with its Democratic friends.

But that’s just a preview of coming attractions.

A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to issue a ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association that would have ensured the opt-out rights of government employees in every state. But the decision had to be postponed when Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died just weeks after hearing the case, leaving the court deadlocked.

Most prognosticators took for granted Hillary Clinton would be the one to break the tie, thus taking right-to-work off the table for decades. But if Trump keeps his pledge and appoints a new justice cut from the Scalia mold, the court could free millions of public-sector workers from union bondage by the end of this year.

And that’s just one way it could happen.

With majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans could also accomplish the same objective the old-fashioned way by simply passing a right-to-work bill into law. Or it could be done administratively, for example requiring that states impose right-to-work protections as a precondition of accepting Medicare funding.

But however it happens, Republicans saw in 2016 what can result when Democrats are deprived of the millions they’ve grown accustomed to skimming from the paychecks of thousands of public-sector workers with little choice but to pay it … and they’d be throwing away the opportunity of a lifetime if they didn’t lock in the changes permanently.

And when they do, stand by for the howls of righteous indignation about how Republicans are gaming the system to give themselves an unfair advantage.

But that’s a lie.

In fact, they’ll simply be leveling the playing field by requiring unions to fund candidates and causes the way conservative donors always have – with their own money rather than someone else’s.

Jeff Rhodes is a policy analyst with the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia, Wash.-based free-market think tank.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John Kerry

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