ORLANDO – The 2012 election is barely in the books, but the AFL-CIO is already starting to think about the next round of polling, in November 2014.
And its top races there, say both federation Political Committee Chairman Lee Saunders and federation Political Director Michael Podhorzer, will be the nation’s governors. Plus, they added when meeting this week with reporters during the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Orlando, Fla., a key theme will be accountability.
Labor is coming off a political cycle where its virtual voter-by-voter precinct operation and its new ability to reach non-union voters – thanks, ironically, to a pro-business U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 – produced huge union turnout for President Obama and other pro-worker politicians in 2012.
Estimates of labor’s share last year are around 24 percent, with much more than that in key swing states, such as Ohio. That’s more than double the proportion of union members in the U.S. workforce (11.3 percent).
The high turnout produced success at the polls last November. Obama soundly trounced anti-worker GOP nominee Mitt Romney – whom labor successfully cast as a job-destroyer – and Democrats gained two U.S. Senate seats, even though they had 23 seats to defend, compared to 10 held by the anti-worker GOP.
Pro-worker Democrats also gained U.S. House seats, but not enough to flip it. Podhorzer says GOP-run redistricting after the 2010 census netted the Republicans 15 House seats nationwide. The GOP controls the House 231-200, with four vacancies.
But with more than half of the nation’s governors up next year, and with past battles in the states showing the importance of those seats, labor is turning its focus there, Saunders and Podhorzer say.
Topping the agenda will be the ouster of Right Wing Republicans such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Scott of Florida and Rick Snyder of Michigan. All used their posts to kill workers’ collective bargaining rights, push anti-worker so-called “Right to Work” laws, or both, plus other anti-worker measures.
“2014 will be a very, very important year. The Radical Republican governors elected in 2010 – Scott, Kasich, Walker – will be a priority. They’re pushing the country rightwards,” Podhorzer said.
Democrats, too, will be under the federation’s political microscope. For example, Saunders, AFSCME’s national president, told reporters on Feb. 27 his union is still bargaining with Gov. Pat Quinn, D-Ill., over a wide range of issues, such as underfunded pensions. AFSCME members in Illinois have been at loggerheads with Quinn for more than a year. He also wants to yank union recognition for 1,900 workers.
“We cannot just elect these folks and then forget about it until the next election, when they come around asking for money,” Saunders said. Instead, labor will conduct a “24/7” political operation to hold officeholders accountable on many issues, he noted. And “we’ll have to do what we did in 2012: Match the other side’s spending with our foot soldiers,” Podhorzer added.
Two other issues where labor will demand accountability are spending – speci-fically the “sequester,” the Washington term for rampant budget-cutting – and immigra-tion. The sequester would cut $85 billion from federal spending, starting March 1.
The federation has campaigned against the sequester. It calls the spending cut damaging to the still-fragile economy and warns the slashes could put up to 1 million people out of work.
A federation statement called the GOP advocates of spending cuts and sequestration “hostage takers” who must be disarmed before they further harm the economy and cost jobs.
If the budget must be trimmed and federal red ink lessened, Policy Director Damon Silvers said, labor prefers a different mix: A combination of tax increases on the rich, closing corporate tax loopholes and administrative reforms to produce lower spending growth rates for federal health care programs – measures that would not hurt workers or beneficiaries.
And politicians would be held accountable for their votes and stands on the sequester, too, said Silvers and others.
They’ll be held accountable on immigration reform, too, says Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary of the L.A. County Federation of Labor and chair of the AFL-CIO Immigration Committee.
“Members of Congress have to remember who went to vote, and why,” she said at a Feb. 27 press conference on immigration reform. The electorate “did not vote for a second-class program with worker exploitation, but for a program that lets people come out of the shadows.”
Photo: It’s not just Republicans who the unions plan to pressure. Democrats like Illinois Gov. Quinn, who got elected with union support, will feel the heat if they double-cross workers. AFSCME Local 31 Facebook page