Ohio's labor unions flex political muscle again
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Whether Ohio's blue-collar workers were motivated by the auto bailout or lingering bitterness over a Republican-led attempt to limit collective bargaining, it's clear that the state's labor unions remain a political force when united.
Organized labor claimed credit for President Barack Obama's victory in Ohio after union members and their allies flooded the state with mailers, phone calls and home visits in the days leading up to the election.
Sixty percent of voters from union households in Ohio threw their support behind Obama while the rest of the state's voters were split between the president and Republican Mitt Romney, according to exit poll results for The Associated Press.
Obama also got a slightly bigger share of the union vote than he did in 2008.
The union vote for Obama was even stronger in Wisconsin, where the state's Republican governor also sought to limit union rights for public workers.
The momentum began in Ohio, labor leaders say, when Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a law in 2011 that banned public employee strikes and limited the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and state employees.
The president's political team realized at the time they had a chance to re-energize organized labor in Ohio and other states where anti-union sentiment was growing. Obama's team began working closely with union leaders. And then last November, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved the repeal of the collective bargaining law, known as Senate Bill 5, which Romney had endorsed.
"There's no question Senate Bill 5 was a unifying moment," said Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga. "It brought out our fighting spirit."
The union federation said its members and volunteers contacted 800,000 voters in Ohio during the four days before presidential election. The AFL-CIO also registered 68,000 new voters in Ohio.
the results showed that labor unions still have the ability to move votes like few other organizations, Burga said.
"When they start attacking our rights and everything else, we're going to get involved," said Chris Weaver, a Youngstown firefighter who's vice president of the union there.
The Republican attempt to limit collective bargaining wasn't an issue that got a lot of notice on the presidential campaign trail, but it did come up quite a bit in talk around firehouses and in literature distributed by labor groups.
"It bought the labor movement back a little bit," Weaver said.
The other big motivator among blue collar workers in Ohio was the auto bailout. Sixty percent of Ohio's voters favored coming to the rescue of General Motors and Chrysler and three-fourths threw their support behind the president.
The downside for labor in Ohio coming out of the election is that exit polls over the past eight years show that the share of voters from union households has dropped somewhat significantly with loss of many unionized manufacturing jobs.
Eight years ago, one out of three Ohio voters said they or someone they lived with was in a union. This year, it was one out of five.