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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Labor Unions Claim Credit for Obama\'s Victory

The nation's labor unions have not been shy about claiming substantial credit for President Obama's re-election.

In a news conference Wednesday, Richard Trumka, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, said that without the huge push by the nation's labor unions, Mr. Obama never would have won Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada - and their combined 34 electoral votes.

“We did deliver those states,” Mr. Trumka said. “Without organized labor, none of those states would have been in the president's column.”

A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials said that during the last four days of the campaign, union members and their community partners contacted 800,000 voters in Ohio alone, as part of what they said were 10.7 million door knocks and phone calls made nationwide by the federation's 56 unions. Moreover, the Service Employees International Union said that its members alone knocked on 5 million doors, including 3.7 million in battleground states.

“We had 100,000 volunteers across the country in the final days,” said Mary Kay Henry, the S.E.I.U. president.

Sixty percent of union members in Ohio voted for Mr. Obama, higher than the 50 percent that Mr. Obama received over all from Ohio voters, according to exit polls that had not been completed. Union households accounted for 22 percent of Ohio's voters. In Wisconsin, union members made up 21 percent of the electorate, and they voted for Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney, 66 percent to 33 percent.

Fifty-eight percent of union members nationwide backed Mr. Obama and 40 percent supported Mr. Romney.

Michael Podhorzer, the labor federation's political director, said organized labor's newfound ability â€" made possible by the Citizens United decision - to knock on the doors of not just union members, but also those of nonunion workers, went far to explain why a significantly higher percentage of white working-class voters in the battleground states where labor was most active voted for Mr. Obama than white working-class voters in nonbattleground states.

Some political experts say, however, that white working-class voters in the battleground states leaned toward Mr. Obama out of gratitude for the auto industry bailout and because of the many Obama campaign advertisements attacking Mitt Romney for Bain Capital's closing plants and outsourcing jobs.

Lee Saunders, chairman of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s political committee and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municpal Employees, said, this was the “the smartest, biggest and broadest effort we've ever run” in a political campaign.

Union leaders also hailed the victories of some of labor's best friends on Capitol Hill, including Sherrod Brown, a Democratic Senator from Ohio.

In his news conference, Mr. Trumka stopped short of saying he expected any quid pro quo from Mr. Obama. But he made clear what organized labor hoped for, especi ally as the White House prepares to negotiate with Republicans on Capitol Hill on how to reduce the budget deficit.

“People don't want cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” Mr. Trumka said. “Even people who voted for Mitt Romney don't want that.”

He made clear that to help cut the deficit, Mr. Obama should push forward with his plan to raise taxes on the highest-earning 2 percent of Americans.

The nation's labor unions are planning rallies in roughly 100 cities on Thursday to protest against cuts in Medicare, Social Security or other social insurance programs.

Mr. Trumka said he also wanted Mr. Obama to push more aggressively to create jobs â€" for instance, to invest more in rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and to push Congress to pass the stalled American Jobs Act.

Ms. Henry of the service employees union and Mr. Trumka also made clear that they were eager for the president to push forward on immigration reform, s aying that their organizations would strongly back him in such an effort. They join with many Hispanic groups in calling for a path to legalization for millions of unauthorized immigrants.

On Wednesday, labor leaders were celebrating a major victory in California: the defeat of Proposition 32, a ballot initiative backed by several wealthy conservatives, that would have gone far to cripple labor's political efforts by largely banning unions from using their dues money for politics. That initiative was voted down by 56 percent to 44 percent.

Several conservatives had said that if they won that battle in California, they would push for similar ballot initiatives in other states.

But organized labor suffered a major loss in Michigan on Tuesday. There the United Auto Workers and several public employees unions had vigorously backed a ballot initiative that would have enshrined collective bargaining in the state constitution. Such a move would have prohibited the state's Republican-dominated legislature from enacting a “right to work” law or passing legislation that, like the law in Wisconsin, curbed the ability of government workers to bargain collectively. Business leaders warned that this pro-labor measure would injure the state's business climate and push up costs for cities and school districts.

Labor and business interests each spent more than $20 million in the fight, and the proposal was defeated 58 percent to 42 percent.

Several union leaders said that if they had won that battle in Michigan, they would have pushed for similar labor-friendly initiatives in other states.