Unions see Missouri win as red state watershed

Unions see Missouri win as red state watershed
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Unions are looking at their recent lopsided ballot measure win in deep-red Missouri as a watershed moment and a sign of victories to come.

The Missouri vote last week to overturn a right-to-work law restricting unions follows a string of successful red-state protests on teachers wages in recent months.

Now, after years of political decline, unions are eyeing new initiatives in an environment that has proved unexpectedly fertile.


“Coming off the 2016 election, what we’re seeing is a huge move toward collective action,” said Julie Greene, the Mobilization Hub director for the AFL-CIO.

According to Gallup, Americans’ views on unions hit a 14-year high last year, reaching 61 percent approval, just above its historical average in recent decades. That marks a distinct turnaround since the Great Recession almost a decade ago, when approval hit an all-time low of 48 percent amid job cuts, a contracting economy and the government bailout of U.S. automakers.

Even Republican support for unions is on the rise, from a low of 26 percent in 2011 to last year’s 42 percent, just a hair below the share who disapprove of unions.

President TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE could have something to do with those numbers, according to Gallup.

"Even though Trump is not an avid supporter of unions, his rhetoric about restoring U.S. manufacturing jobs and cordial relations with some top labor union leaders at the start of his term may have softened Republican attitudes about unions," the poll’s authors wrote.

But that’s not how Greene sees things.

“What I’m seeing as we’re talking to our members is that there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse from the small percentage who took that chance and voted for Trump,” she said.

Workers are feeling more attuned to labor issues as wages continue to stagnate despite a booming economy. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data showing that real hourly wages have dropped 0.4 percent from July 2017.

“Wages have been stuck for a really long time, and everybody is frustrated by it, and it’s seen as a very legitimate need to get rewarded for a share of that as everything is becoming more productive,” said Karla Walter, director of the American Worker Project at the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund.

A similar dynamic was in play earlier this year in teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, where educators rallied and went on strike to demand higher wages.

“The teachers strikes were extremely popular because people understood that the teachers weren’t just asking for better wages, they were asking for a better environment for people’s kids,” said Walter.

Rising concerns over wages could be part of the reason that half of Missouri’s Republican primary voters opted to overturn the right-to-work law on Tuesday, helping unions claim victory by a 2-to-1 margin.

Vulnerable red state Democrats such as Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview MORE (Mo.) are hoping that level of enthusiasm will help turn tides in their favor come the midterm elections Nov. 6.

"Missourians are worried about the widening gap between the bosses and those people who labor hard to just have enough money to cover their living costs,” McCaskill said, before calling out her opponent. “Unlike Josh Hawley, I strongly opposed Prop A, as did the vast majority of Missourians who soundly rejected it.”

The Hawley campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

But not everyone thinks Democrats will be able to capitalize on the shifting tides.

“If the labor unions that back those initiatives frame them in a partisan context, they might not be as successful,” said Adrian Hemond, a political strategist at Grassroots Midwest.

“What's just as important, if not more important, is how you talk to folks in red states about these issues,” he added. “They are Republican. If you put this in a left versus right context, it won’t work.”

The unions seem to agree. One of the things that made their campaign effective — aside from a $15 million budget — was a strategic change that focused on relatable issues instead of partisan politics.

“Our conversations at the door aren’t vote for candidate X, but what keeps you up at night?” said Greene.

Unions are gearing up, she said, to put a slew of other initiatives front and center. Though the AFL-CIO has not yet settled on a list, unions like the Service Employees International Union are backing minimum wage increases and paid sick leave laws in newly red states such as Michigan.

Democrats, however, could still see an upside to putting popular labor issues on the ballot as a way to help boost voter turnout.

In Missouri, where turnout was up more than 8 percentage points compared to the 2014 midterm primaries, more people voted on Prop A than in the Senate primaries.