On Tuesday night, in a strong rebuke to the anti-labor agendas of Wisconsin and Illinois’ Republican governors, voters elected Democrats to lead their states. Illinois’ new governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, won the race with 54 percent of the vote, while Wisconsin’s new governor, Tony Evers, won his contest, though final votes are still being tallied. Both ran on strong, clear messages of supporting unions and working families.
It would be hard to understate the damage to workers wrought by Scott Walker, elected during the Tea Party wave of 2010, and Bruce Rauner, elected in 2014. Walker wasted no time taking aim at organized labor: In 2011 he proposed the notorious Act 10, legislation which stripped public school teachers of their right to collectively bargain, on top of slashing their health insurance and pension benefits. Act 10 inspired 100,000 people to protest at the state capitol, but when Walker easily won a recall election in 2012, he grew emboldened. Republicans repealed Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws for state and local government funded projects, and Wisconsin’s minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25. The last time it was raised was nearly a decade ago.
Prior to Act 10, the state’s largest teachers union—the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC)—boasted 98,000 members. By 2016, that number had dropped to 36,074. As of August, WEAC membership had fallen even further, to just over 32,000 educators. Overall union membership across the state is down too: There were 355,000 union members across Wisconsin in 2010, but as of 2017, that number stood at 230,000.
In Illinois, Rauner’s record was similarly hostile to workers. Upon taking office in 2015, the governor’s first order of business was to introduce his so-called “Turnaround Agenda”—a wish-list of 44 proposals that he insisted were needed to save the state. Among them were calls to eliminate…