What Workers and Their Friends Should Watch for on Election Day

From pro- (and anti-) worker ballot measures to state legislature races to unions’ swing-state GOTV, there’s a lot for the labor movement to keep an eye on.

NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 4 2014: fast food workers & supporters marched along 8th Ave calling for an increase to the minimum wage. Some blocked traffic on 8th Ave leading to several arrests by NYPD
Photo Credit: a katz /

lection Day is finally here (phew!), and as usual, there’s a lot at stake for working Americans. On the presidential level (at the risk of stating the obvious), there is a huge chasm between Clinton and Trump when it comes to backing a progressive, working-families agenda.

While Donald Trump has promised to be a voice for the (white male) working class, his proposed policies won’t magically bring back manufacturing and offshored jobs. In fact, his proposals would be downright disastrous for working people. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, supports a $12 federal minimum wage and mandatory paid sick and family leave, advocates ambitious policies that would boost infrastructure spending and lift up workers in the child- and home-care industries, and promises to push through immigration reform, which would create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers. (There’s more, but you get the picture.)

Of course, the presidential election is just one of many consequential races. Who controls the U.S. Senate, state governors’ mansions, and legislative chambers, as well as the fate of a slew of ballot measures, will all be decided today.

Here’s what to watch for:

Unions’ Ground Game in Swing States

If Clinton is to win the White House, she must do well in several battleground states (Florida, Nevada, Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) that also feature heated U.S. Senate races. (Democrats are also hoping their Senate candidates can win in Missouri and Indiana, too, through for Clinton herself, those states are out of reach.) Labor unions have lined up behind Clinton and Democratic Senate candidates in battleground states and poured millions into ad buys. But unions’ real power rests with their formidable ground-game operations to turn out the vote.

The AFL-CIO, in partnership with the national teachers unions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and liberal benefactor Tom Steyer have been running a voter canvassing and turnout operation called For Our Future, targeting in voters in many of those states. Working America, the AFL-CIO’s non-union political organizing arm, has been working to convince white working-class voters in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio to vote Democratic. The Service Employees International Union has forged its own independent political program that is specifically aimed at turning out black and Latino working-class voters. In Florida alone, the union has knocked on more than half a million doors three times over, the vast majority being Latino households.

All of these union-backed efforts have ramped up over the weekend and will continue with GOTV through Election Day to drive up Democratic base turnout. Their ability to do so will likely be a determining factor in how Clinton and down-ballot Democrats fare in those states.

The Race for the States

There are 12 elections for state governors today, and seven of them are wide open. The most closely contested races have significant stakes for labor.

Perhaps the most consequential gubernatorial race for unions is in Missouri

Perhaps the most consequential gubernatorial race for unions is in Missouri, where the Republican-controlled legislature has not only passed legislation banning localities (including St. Louis and Kansas City) from enacting their own minimum wage laws, but has also, at the behest of state business leaders, sought to make the state right-to-work, meaning that unions can no longer mandate membership or fees as a condition of employment at unionized worksites. The only things that have kept right-to-work and a larger anti-worker agenda from taking hold have been the vetoes by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, who is term-limited out of office this year. Right-to-work has become a key issue in the race between Democratic contender (and former Republican) Chris Koster, who has broad support from state and national unions and opposes the policy, and Republican contender (and former Democrat) Eric Greitens, who has pledged to sign right-to-work into law. Polls show the two running neck and neck.

In West Virginia, billionaire Democrat Jim Justice is running against Republican president of the state Senate Bill Cole to replace Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. The Republican-held legislature has already pushed through right-to-work legislation (though unions got a temporary injunction after filing suit in court) and repealed its prevailing wage law for state-funded construction projects, overriding Tomblin’s vetoes of both. With an anti-union Republican like Cole in control, the party would be able to further devastate unions in a state where they’ve already seen a precipitous drop in power.

In Indiana, Governor (and Republican vice presidential candidate) Mike Pence has blocked attempts to raise the state’s minimum wage, repealed its prevailing wage law, and defended its right-to-work law, while vehemently advocating for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. His Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb is running for governor in Pence’s place, pledging to continue Pence’s politics. The union-backed Democrat, former state Speaker of the House John Gregg, has said that Republican control of the legislature, means there isn’t a viable path to repeal right-to-work and restore the prevailing wage. At the very least, though, he would provide a roadblock against further attacks on unions.

In other post-industrial Midwest states, unions are hoping that Democrats can flip the Wisconsin Senate and the Michigan House to provide a counterweight to the anti-labor politics of Governors Scott Walker and Rick Snyder, respectively. Meanwhile, Kentucky Democrats are fighting to hold on to their thin (five-seat margin) control of the House, which as of now is the only thing keeping Republican Governor Matt Bevin from turning the state right-to-work.

Ballot Measures

It’s hard to keep track of the hundreds of initiatives and referendums on the ballot across the country, but several of them will directly affect workers. On the ballot in both Virginia and Alabama are constitutional amendments that would encase those states’ existing right-to-work laws within their respective constitutions. If passed, these measures would block any future legislative attempts to repeal right-to-work and require opponents to get voters to amend the constitution at the polls.

In four states, voters will decide whether to increase their state’s minimum wage. In Washington, the initiative would increase the state’s minimum to $13.50 an hour by 2020, and also mandate paid sick leave for workers. In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, the measures would increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Arizona’s measure would also include paid sick leave. In South Dakota, voters will decide whether to decrease the state’s $8.50 minimum wage (enacted via ballot measure in 2014) to $7.50 an hour for workers under the age of 18.

In Seattle, voters will also decide if hotels should be required to have protections against sexual assault and harassment for its workers and whether hotel owners should help pay for the health care of contracted workers and protect against employee job loss when contracting out hotel work. In San Jose, a measure is on the ballot that would require businesses to offer available hours to part-time workers before hiring more workers.

 Justin Miller is a writing fellow for The American Prospect. Follow him on Twitter: @by_jmiller

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