Workers rights, government workers’ pensions and what roles workers – and firms – can play in politics are among the referendums that will greet voters in various states on Nov. 6.

The biggest and most important of the votes is in California, where a group of right wing Republicans put Prop 32 on the state ballot and is organizing rich corporations and individuals – including the radical right Koch brothers – to back it.

Prop 32 would throw workers out of politics, by banning campaign contributions under almost all circumstances. The artfully written initiative makes it seem there are also restrictions on corporate contributions. But unionists say that’s a façade.

Prop 32 is important nationally because California is the nation’s most-populous state – home to 37 million people – and has the greatest number of unionists. It’s also often a predictor of future trends for the nation as a whole.

“While it claims to be about ‘stopping special interests,’ the measure actually gives special exemptions to corporate special interests and Super PACs. It would do nothing to fix what’s broken in Sacramento,” the state labor federation says. “Instead, Prop 32 would give even more power to the wealthy and well-connected to influence elections, control government and weaken our state’s middle class.

“The deceptive wording of the initiative specifically limits the voice of union members like our local teachers and nurses and the firefighters and police that keep us safe. This one-sided measure would make our system even more imbalanced and it does nothing to stop the flow of money from the wealthy in politics.”

But it also exempts “corporate front groups” and SuperPACs, the fed said.

“This would give corporate CEOs and their lobbyists even greater influence over our political system. Corporations already outspend unions 15-1 in politics. This measure would effectively clear the playing field of any opposition to big corporations’ agenda, which includes outsourcing jobs, gutting homeowner protections, slashing wages and health benefits and attacking retirement security.”

The flip side of Prop 32 is in Michigan, where labor is campaigning to write workers’ rights into the state constitution.

The GOP-run legislature, at the behest of GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, pushed through many anti worker laws, including one virtually stripping teachers of tenure and another letting the state name financial czars to take over troubled local governments, tear up union contracts, fire workers and cut their pensions. Not surprisingly, the first takeover targets were majority-minority unionized workers and governments in Detroit and Flint, among other cities.

In response, unions, led by the Teamsters, AFSCME and the UAW garnered enough signatures to put an initiative on the state ballot writing the right to collective bargaining into the state constitution. The Chamber of Commerce launched a multi-million-dollar campaign to defeat the initiative.

“When the Greatest Generation ran the country, workers bargained collectively for their fair share of the prosperity they created,” Teamsters President James Hoffa, a Michigan resident, wrote in a recent op-ed. “Those important rights should be protected as part of the state constitution.

“Collective bargaining built America’s great middle class after World War II. It created a virtuous loop that strengthened the American economy. Workers who bargained for better wages and benefits were able to buy their own homes and fill them with refrigerators and toys and new clothes – and put a car or two in the garage. Their spending fueled even more manufacturing and even more jobs,” he continued.

“Collective bargaining also allowed employers and employees to negotiate their differences productively, to work together to solve problems, to find efficiencies and to build better products. Collective bargaining rights are under attack, threatening our middle class. It’s no coincidence that the middle class is shrinking as collective bargaining rights are being taken away.”

Other notable referendums on ballots this fall include:

A Montana constitutional amendment to declare corporations are not persons for political purposes, and thus their political donations can be regulated.

An Illinois constitutional amendment to require a three-fifths majority vote in the relevant legislative body – including the state General Assembly and local city councils and school boards – to increase workers’ pensions.

A GOP-passed proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota to impose a tough “voter ID” law there. It was petitioned to a referendum and the AFL-CIO is leading the campaign against it.

Minnesota is also one of several states where voters will cast ballots on marriage rights. The GOP in Minnesota proposed another constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Foes of gay marriage laws in Maryland and Washington state are trying to overturn them at the ballot box.

A Missouri referendum to restore local control of police departments in St. Louis and Kansas City. A state minimum wage increase was knocked off the referendum ballot.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.