Last November, Ohio’s public and private sector unions flexed their political muscles and stopped a collective bargaining reform law from taking effect. The defeat of State Issue 2, which was designed to kill Senate Bill 5, was a major setback for Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly. It was a significant victory for labor.
By contrast, in the November 2010 general election, union members in heavily Democratic regions like the Mahoning Valley failed to show up in sufficient numbers to give Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland the margin he needed to win a second four-year term.
The result was a takeover by Republicans of every statewide office and the Legislature.
Thus the question: Will President Obama be the beneficiary of the unions’ political power that was on display last year, or will he suffer the same fate as Strickland?
To be sure, the turnout this year will surpass the 49.22 percent of the registered voters who went to the polls in 2010. But, whether the union members follow their leaders and vote for the president on Nov. 6 remains a great mystery.
The election two years ago illustrated the growing disenchantment with Obama on the part of traditional Democratic voters: blue-collar workers (mostly white males) and teachers.
A long-time union leader in the Mahoning Valley provided some insight into what occurred:
A week before the November 2010 election, he had gone door-to-door to urge his members to go to the polls and vote for Strickland and other Democrats on the ballot. The reaction from a significant number led him to believe that the Democratic ticket was in trouble. He wasn’t wrong.
But what surprised the union leader more than anything else was the virulent opposition to Obama.
Why was he surprised? Because these were workers at General Motors’ Lordstown plant who owed their jobs to the president.
But it wasn’t just the factory workers who turned their backs on a governor who had worked with the Obama administration to ensure that the auto industry in Ohio remained strong.
Ohio’s teachers, many of whom would have been unemployed had Obama and the Democrats not come up with the $787 billion stimulus program, failed to show their appreciation. The GOP has made the stimulus a major campaign issue — despite the fact that Republican members of Congress have secured hundreds of millions of dollars for their districts.
The hypocrisy was detailed in last week’s column.
As for the schoolteachers, it has been said that half of those who went to the polls in 2010 ignored the fact that the Democrats had gone to bat for them and voted for Kasich and the rest of the Republican ticket.
But like the auto workers at GM Lordstown plant and other unionists, the teachers soon came to regret their political backstabbing.
Last year, with the GOP firmly in control in Columbus, Kasich and company rammed through Senate Bill 5, an assault on public employees unions. It was designed to strip government workers of many of the collective bargaining rights they had enjoyed for decades.
The unions, along with the Ohio Democratic Party, launched a petition drive to give Ohioans the chance to decide whether SB5, which was signed into law by the governor, should remain on the books.
The campaign was a stunning success: 2,202,404 Ohioans voted against the collective bargaining reform law; 1,373,724 for it.
The unions, especially in the Mahoning Valley, have a big-time debt to pay the Democrats.
They gambled by either staying home in 2010 or supporting the Republicans and learned a valuable political lesson.
Monday’s visit to the Valley by the president and one of his most important allies in this election, former President Bill Clinton, is an opportunity for unionists to do some soul searching. If they are turned off by Obama, they should certainly pay attention to Clinton, who during his eight years in office had labor’s back.
And if they are under any illusions that a Romney presidency won’t be so bad, the unions should look at what is transpiring in Columbus. On the agenda next year: A right-to-work bill.