- - Sunday, November 13, 2016

Donald Trump and Senate Republicans were the big winners on Nov. 8, but those who believe in freedom for union workers should also be cheering. As unions have become increasingly disconnected from their membership, the 2016 election results have provided a prime opportunity to reform unionization policies and make them better for workers.

It’s no secret that Big Labor throws its weight behind Democrats. Historically, about 98 percent of union political spending goes to the left. And 2016 was no different — in fact, unions doubled down, spending 40 percent more in 2016 than in 2012 (and these numbers don’t include the last two months of the campaign, which have not been reported yet). But while the vast majority of union money goes to Democrats, an increasing percentage union members are voting Republican.

For the past few elections, it has been clear that union members no longer line up obediently behind union executives. While the nation’s union leadership endorsed Hillary Clinton and Democrats down the ballot, membership was not as enthralled. The United Auto Worker’s Facebook page was filled with comments criticizing their political choices (Sample: “It boggles my mind how the UAW is supporting Hillary Clinton This is the reason Detroit is a ghost town.”).

And it wasn’t just Facebook comments: Union voters split from the Democratic ticket in huge numbers. Nationally, as noted by Fox News, union households went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a mere eight points — down from 18 for President Obama in 2012.

In key battleground states with the highest percentage of union workers, the break was even sharper. In Wisconsin, union households supported Mr. Obama overwhelmingly in 2012 (66 percent) — Mrs. Clinton managed only a bare majority (52 percent). In Ohio, Mr. Trump pulled a majority of union members (52 percent), while Mitt Romney got only 37 percent there four years earlier. Union support for Mrs. Clinton in Michigan was cut by more than 20 percent in 2016 compared to previous elections.

Every large national union went for Mrs. Clinton. Most are surely feeling the way American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten did the day after: “We were all in and we lost.”

She’s right that union executives were “all in” — the problem is their membership wasn’t. But while union workers can disagree with their officials at the ballot box, too many are still forced to support them with dues that pay for causes they don’t believe in.

One good way to ensure unions really care about membership is to give members the choice in whether to continue sending dues to big unions. Recent years have seen Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and West Virginia all become right-to-work states. The 2016 election has provided an opportunity to add more to the nation’s 26 right-to-work states.

For example, in Missouri, Republicans who had passed a worker freedom bill in 2015 only to see it vetoed have won the governorship and expanded their legislative majorities. Kentucky has also dabbled with passing a right-to-work law, but has had a Democratic House for nearly 100 years. It flipped to the Republicans this election though and that party now has a large legislative majority and control the Senate and governorship.

New Hampshire has passed right-to-work bills several times in the past few years, only to have them vetoed by a governor’s pen. Pro-labor reform Republicans captured the governor’s office via former Sen. Chris Sununu. He has pledged to support the state going right-to-work and has a legislative majority to do so.

If those states attempt to go right-to-work, they can expect a familiar story. In Wisconsin and Indiana, Democratic legislators fled the state to put off the vote. In Michigan, thousands descended on the capitol and sometimes resorted to violence. But in every state that has passed worker freedom laws in recent years, legislators voting for these bills have not only won re-election, but their party has gained seats.

Union members have diverse policy perspectives and political beliefs. And whether it is social issues, gun rights, Obamacare, or something else, they frequently disagree with union leadership.

Unfortunately union leadership, through their political giving, endorsements and support, have discounted members who disagree with them. Right-to-work can provide a remedy. If union leadership does not listen to their members, their membership can simply stop paying. Instead of going “all in” on one political party, union leaders should focus on what they are supposed to do in the first place: represent the interests of their members.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. Jarrett Skorup is a policy analyst at the center.

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