Tuesday was election day in America, and millions of voters in cities and states across the country cast their ballots to select their next mayors, city councilors, school board members, congressional representatives (in Ohio and Florida), and, in Virginia and New Jersey, their next governor. Many pundits have insisted that Tuesday’s elections may serve as a bellwether to test the strength of the two major political parties heading into next year’s midterm elections, which will determine control of Congress until 2024.
In Virginia, multi-millionaire private-equity executive Glenn Youngkin (R) will be the next governor, winning just over 50 percent of the vote in a tight election against moderate Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who received the endorsement of some major unions but was lukewarm on issues relating to workers’ rights. Youngkin, self-described as a “pro-business candidate,” has stated his opposition to raising the state’s minimum wage and vowed to protect its so-called “right-to-work” law, which has been on the books for more than 70 years, implemented immediately after such legislation was greenlit by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. Similarly, Republican candidate Jason Miyares, a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates who has voted against Medicaid expansion and a minimum-wage increase, defeated incumbent Mark Herring (D) to become Virginia’s next Attorney General.
In New Jersey, the election remains too close to call, though it appears that Governor Phil Murphy (D) will win reelection in an unexpectedly close contest, becoming the first Democrat to win consecutive gubernatorial terms in the state in more than 40 years. Governor Murphy received the endorsement of a slate of major unions, including the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, the State Trooper’s Fraternal Association of New Jersey, and the United Food and Commercial Workers. The AFL-CIO, hosting a rally for Murphy last month, called him “one of the most pro-union governors in the country,” and in his first term, Murphy raised the minimum wage, putting the state on a path to a $15 an hour by 2024, enacted a sweeping legislative package designed to combat worker misclassification, and signed into law bills that provide paid sick time to workers in the state and increase penalties for wage theft, among many other pro-worker legislative initiatives.
In Boston, city council member Michelle Wu (D) became the first woman of color elected mayor of the capital of Massachusetts. Wu, a political protégée of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), was endorsed by Teamster Local 25, 32BJ SEIU, OPEIU Local 453, and the Alliance of Unions at the MBTA, and she campaigned on bold progressive causes, including eliminating fares for the city’s public transportation system, implementing a “Boston Green New Deal” that would achieve net-zero municipal emission by 2024 and decarbonize the city entirely by 2040, imposing rent control to combat the city’s affordable housing crisis, and promoting economic justice and worker empowerment. Progressive mayors, endorsed by major unions, were also elected in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
In New York City, Borough President of Brooklyn and former police captain Eric Adams (D) easily won the race for mayor of The Big Apple. Adams received the endorsement, backing, and financial support of some — though not all — of the City’s largest unions, including AFSCME District Council 37, 32BJ SEIU, and the Hotel Trades Council, in the Democratic primary, in which he defeated several self-identified “progressives.” Though he made some promises to labor and referred to himself as “a straight-up union guy,” Adams positioned himself on the campaign trail as a pro-business candidate, declaring that he would make NYC a more “business-friendly city.”
Related to the election results, a national survey released by More Perfect Union on Monday found that 58 percent of Americans view labor unions favorably. Though a majority of every income level indicated support for unions, the strongest backing came from low-income workers and those with only a high school education. More Perfect Union notes that “the same voters that Democrats have been struggling to win over and energize in recent elections…are among the strongest supporters of unions.” Indeed, the Democratic Party is desperate to win the votes of these non-college-educated white working class voters — a group that went for Donald Trump by 15 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election — and More Perfect Union’s latest poll, coupled with the widespread strikes launched throughout the nation last month, seem to indicate that these voters are becomingly increasingly committed to a militant labor movement. Meanwhile, President Biden and other prominent Democratic lawmakers have been reluctant, for example, to even express support for the thousands of workers currently on strike across the country. As More Perfect Union aptly concludes, “if Democrats want to protect and expand their majorities in 2022, having prominent elected officials…speak out in support of workers fighting for better wages and dignity in the workplace could be a good place to start.” Abolishing the filibuster and passing the PRO Act might be an even better place to start.
In union news, as Fred noted on Monday, a ratification vote on the second tentative deal between John Deere and the United Auto Workers, who have been on a massive strike for more than two weeks against the agricultural machinery giant, which has reaped billions of dollars in record-smashing profits so far this year, was set for yesterday. The striking workers rejected the agreement by a vote of 55 percent against and 45 percent in favor, thereby extending the strike and demonstrating the renewed confidence of the American workforce amid widespread staffing shortages in the wake of the pandemic. The new agreement, as Fred explained earlier this week, provided 10 percent raises for the first year of the contract, five percent raises in the third and fifth years, improved retirement benefits, lump sum bonuses and ratification bonuses. “The strike against John Deere and company will continue as we discuss next steps with the company,” UAW affirmed in a statement.
Relatedly, as daily coronavirus cases once again fall across the nation and the country’s vaccination rate continues to tick steadily higher, the labor market may be showing early signs of a hiring surge, after months of companies reportedly struggling to find and retain workers. New unemployment claims have fallen for a month straight, dipping to a pandemic-low of 281,000 last week, and business surveys reveal that service sectors employers are increasing their workforces at the fastest rate seen in months. Throughout this year, millions of workers across the nation have become emboldened by their increased leverage, resulting from the economic instability inflicted by the country’s protracted inability to defeat the coronavirus, and have been quitting their jobs and launching strikes in record numbers. This surge of labor unrest has led to long-awaited, yet still inadequate, pay increases in low-wage service sectors — in fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data last Friday revealing that in the last three months, wages rose by the highest rate in two decades.
To plug these gaps in the workforce, some GOP-controlled state legislatures, rather than raising wages, improving working conditions, or enhancing workplace protections against the coronavirus, have sought to weaken child labors laws, the Guardian reported yesterday. Republican lawmakers introduced a bill in the Ohio state senate last month, for example, that would allow children under the age of 16 to remain on the clock after 7 p.m., and approved legislation in Wisconsin, where child labor protections have faced steady erosion in recent years, permitting children as young as 14 to labor late into the night. This legislation represents a broader recent trend of corporate efforts to hire child laborers in lieu of raising wages for their adult workers.
In New York City, major unions and labor organizations in the area, including 1199SEIU, SEIU 32BJ, Teamsters Joint District Council 16, New York State Nurses Association, and the New York City Central Labor Council, endorsed the hunger strike launched last month by cab drivers in The Big Apple, which Nikita documented on this blog a couple weeks ago, in an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). “These workers have put in decades of work behind the wheel and many rightly expected to begin a dignified retirement today. Instead…some of these workers have been on a hunger strike for over a week, sleeping in their taxis just outside of City Hall,” read the letter. The protesting cabbies have been staging a hunger strike outside of City Hall for weeks in an effort to urge Mayor de Blasio to bail out the City’s generation of enormously indebted taxi drivers who, while attempting to achieve ownership of their own vehicles, were deliberately channeled into devastatingly predatory and exploitative loans — which some have compared to indentured servitude — by large banks and investment firms, driving many to bankruptcy and some to suicide. Mayor de Blasio announced in March that the City would direct $65 million of federal stimulus funds to help the taxi drivers restructure their loans, but this a plan that would still leave them facing crippling debt and steep monthly payments. Many of the City’s cabbies demanded a more ambitious bailout and, two weeks ago, launched a protest that escalated into the ongoing hunger strike.
Finally, though “#Striketober” ended last week, “#Strikesgiving” may just be kicking off. More than 1,000 workers represented by SEIU and laboring in the service and maintenance units at Cabell Huntington Hospital in West Virginia announced late Tuesday night that they will go on strike beginning today at noon. After months of negotiations, members of the bargaining unit rejected the hospital’s “last, best, final offer” on Tuesday night, and the contract between SEIU District 1199 and the hospital expired at midnight. Union representatives, seeking higher wages, safer working conditions, and continued health insurance coverage for their members, claim that the hospital is making record profits, has been “prioritizing profits over care,” and has committed multiple unfair labor practices during these contract negotiations. The union’s last strike against Cabell was more than twenty years ago, in 1998.