By far the biggest win of last night for labor in ballot initiatives was in California, where a series of tax increases (mostly on the wealthy) passed, preventing $6 billion worth of cuts to education and public services. California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt pointed out in a statement that “the people have spoken: the best way to build a better education system is to properly fund it by asking those who can most afford it, the wealthy, to pay their fair share in taxes.” Indeed, California follows Oregon’s  example set in early 2010, that if the issue is successfully framed and with effective organizing, the public is willing to vote to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund essential public services.
Unions were also able to beat back a budget bill in California that would allow the governor to unilaterally cut expenditures, and soundly defeated Prop 32, which would have severely limited their ability to engage in politics. But in other states around the country, unions were able to score key gains, albeit with a significant loss on charter schools in Georgia and a likely loss in Washington State.
In Idaho, the Idaho Education Association (the state’s largest education union) soundly defeated Props 1, 2, and 3, which would have eliminated teacher tenure, instituted merit pay and made the completion of (often for-profit) online coursework for Idaho students to graduate from high school. Wealthy education “reformers” from around the country had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attempting to get the propositions to pass. In South Dakota, voters soundly defeated a similar bill that would have eliminated teacher tenure.
In Michigan, proposals to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution and to expand collective bargaining to homecare workers failed. However, Governor Rick Snyder’s widely despised emergency manager law, which allows him to autocratically appoint managers that run roughshod over local democracy (and union contracts), was defeated by a close margin at the ballot box. A coalition of unions led by AFSCME Council 25 had mobilized to defeat the bill.
In Oregon, unions mobilized to defeat an initiative that would have eliminated inheritance taxes, and were successful. They also were able to eliminate a corporate tax loophole to provide $60 million more annually to public schools.
In Alabama, a sneaky constitutional amendment that could have potentially lead to the elimination of the constitutional guarantee to a right to a public education was defeated after the Alabama Education Association and black political leaders mobilized opposition. An amendment that further restricts the ability to organize, however, passed.
All told, unions and their allies were able to score important victories Tuesday night. As we head into what appears to be another cycle of austerity, let’s see if they can keep the momentum going.
Read John Nichols on how turnout by labor won the Wisconsin and Ohio Senate elections .