Workers Won! An Election Fly-Around

There’s no question that Tuesday’s elections brought some significant wins for working people. I’m not talking about the candidates—although national political reporters are busy acknowledging Obama’s reelection as a clear sign that “labor ain’t dead”  and pondering the policy implications of victories for pro-worker politicians like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown—but rather thinking about the ballot initiatives, where in several votes across the country voters spoke out clearly in favor of raising workplace standards and preserving rights on the job.

We can speculate about exactly what candidates will do once in office, but it seems certain that many working people will benefit from higher wages, improved benefits, and a right to a voice at work as a direct result of the following ballot measures:

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, 40,000 low-wage workers in will get a pay boost as voters in the city overwhelmingly cast their ballots in favor of an increase in the municipal minimum wage. In January 2013, the city’s minimum will rise from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour with automatic adjustments for inflation.  

Similarly in San Jose, California citizens voted to raise the pay of more than 69,000 low-wage workers with a ballot measure boosting that city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour. And in Long Beach, California, 63 percent of voters agreed that hotel employees in the bustling tourist destination deserve not just a wage hike but a few paid days off a year when they get sick.

Although businesses expressed concern about the newly-approved wage laws, empirical research indicates that minimum wage increases do not result in job loss. In fact, the increased spending as a result of the minimum wage hikes is projected to create 200 new full-time jobs in San Jose and 160 new jobs in Albuquerque. No estimates were available for Long Beach, where the hotel-only proposal will impact fewer workers.

In addition to raising workplace standards, voters across the country took a decisive stand in favor of preserving rights at work. In California, for example, an effort to curtail the political contributions of union members (but leave corporate spending intact) masqueraded as balanced campaign finance reform. But Halloween was last week: this week voters saw through the disguise and defeated Proposition 32.

Voters in Idaho  and South Dakota insisted teachers should retain their right to bargain collectively. In Michigan, voters reversed a law that permitted the state to appoint emergency managers with the power to renegotiate cities’ union contracts and invalidate pension agreements with public workers. In addition to harming workers' rights, the emergency manager law also represented an attack on local democracy, as state-appointed emergency managers were empowered to repeal local laws and ordinances enacted by democratically elected officials. Reversing the law was thus a broad victory. Unfortunately, not every ballot measure in Michigan went in a positive direction for workers: an ambitious effort to add the right to collective bargaining into the state constitution went down in defeat, as did an effort to raise standards for home health care workers.

Still the overall trend was a  positive one: from Albuquerque to Idaho, Americans voted to give a raise to the lowest paid and refused to strip workers of their rights.

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