[author: Doug Hass]
Before the recent November elections, we highlighted some of the issues on state election ballots around the country that could have immediate and far-reaching effects on collective bargaining, school funding, and pension issues around the country. The results were a mixed bag for both employers and unions with some successes and failures, as well as important changes in control in state legislatures and governors’ offices.
The highest profile issues on state ballots this year were in Michigan. Unions had heavily promoted Proposal 2, which would have enshrined the right to collective bargaining in the state’s constitution. Unions also sought a referendum on Public Act 4, which gave emergency managers appointed by the governor the power to take over financially distressed local municipalities and school districts and modify or terminate contracts, including collective bargaining agreements. While Proposal 2 failed by a wide margin, Public Act 4 was repealed by just 52% to 48%. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said he believed that “some element” of confusion was involved, since voters had resoundingly rejected five other proposed amendments and may have voted no on Public Act 4 by mistake.
In Illinois, voters failed to approve the Public Pension Amendment. The Amendment would have required a three-fifths vote of a public governing body, rather than a simple majority, to increase pension benefits for public employees. The Amendment received 56% support from the minority of Illinois voters who voted on the measure, but this fell short of the three-fifths support required to approve it.
California voters rejected Proposition 32, the Stop Special Interest Money Now Act that would have barred corporations and unions from using funds deducted from employees’ paychecks for political purposes. The proposed measure also would have banned any contract that required an employee to pay union fees. Additionally, it would have banned agreements between business and unions that would make union fees a condition of employment. Last Tuesday’s vote marked the third time since 1998 that Californians have rejected the measure.
Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that declares the secret ballot is fundamental to democracy. Amendment 7 provides that “the right of individuals to vote for public office, public votes on referenda or votes of employee representation” should be by secret vote. The measure is similar to the secret-ballot law passed by Arizona earlier this year. As we discussed, the NLRB could rekindle challenges to these laws in the months ahead.
In South Dakota, voters rejected Referred Law 16 by a two-thirds margin. The law would have given bonuses to high performing teachers, eliminated tenure after 2016, and provided scholarships to potential candidates for teaching jobs in critical need subjects. The South Dakota Education Association had opposed the bill.
Idaho teachers unions succeeded in convincing voters to reject three laws passed by the Idaho legislature. The first proposition repealed a law limiting previously negotiated union contracts. The second repealed a law recently passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that tied teacher pay to student test scores. The third proposition repealed a law changing school funding formulas and requiring schools to provide computers and online courses.
As we noted previously, state legislative and gubernatorial elections also could shift the balance of power between management and labor. In Maine, Democrats picked up 91 seats in the legislature, including the state Senate race we highlighted in our pre-election alert, retaking a majority in both houses. In Minnesota, unions led the charge to overturn Republican majorities in both houses, giving Democratic Governor Mark Dayton flexibility to avoid spending cuts that would affect public sector union members in the state.
In Iowa, Democrats maintained their narrow Senate majority, thwarting business groups’ attempts to help Republicans take control of both chambers. The election results dim business groups’ hope that Iowa will pass a measure banning public employee unions from collecting dues through automatic paycheck deductions.
In New Hampshire, the GOP-led legislature passed right-to-work legislation last year, but could not override Democratic Governor John Lynch’s veto. Lynch did not seek another term, but Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated her Republican challenger, and Democrats narrowed the Republican majority in the state senate, ensuring that the right-to-work law could not succeed in the upcoming term.
Elsewhere, Indiana teachers unions stunned the Republican establishment by decisively electing Democrat Glenda Ritz as Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ritz ran on a platform seeking to scale back Indiana school reforms and voucher programs. Over union opposition, voters in Washington State narrowly approved charter schools for the first time according to final results released nearly a week after the polls closed, and Georgia voters passed a constitutional amendment that cleared the way for more charter schools in their state. Republicans won back control of the Senate in Wisconsin, which Democrats had held after labor-backed recall elections in June.
We will continue to monitor these and other important developments at the state and federal level as new measures take effect, and update clients on the potential impact as new legislative terms begin.