Labor: Tax the rich, don't touch safety nets
Unions showed they still wield considerable political muscle, despite declining membership and having to spend millions fighting efforts in dozens of state legislatures to curb their bargaining rights or limit their political clout. About 11.8 percent of all workers belong to a union; in the private sector union membership is only 6.9 percent.
Exit polls show Obama won 58 percent of voters from union households, compared with 40 percent for Republican Mitt Romney. That margin rose to 60 percent in Ohio and 66 percent in Wisconsin, where 1 of every 5 voters comes from a union household.
"We did deliver those states," Trumka said. "Without organized labor, none of those would have been in the president's column."
Unions expected to spend big — more than $400 million — to help Obama and other union-friendly candidates at the federal, state and local levels. The country's largest public workers union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says it spent about $100 million while the Service Employees International Union says it spent $85 million.
But labor's election success hinged in large part on its extensive ground game. Thousands of volunteers made millions of personal contacts with union and nonunion voters. Labor also took advantage of new rules on super-PACs, funneling at least $77 million to the groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks money in politics, found that unions and other Democratic-leaning groups were far more successful than outside conservative groups in targeting money toward winning House and Senate campaigns. The SEIU spent more than 70 percent of its funds on winners, for example, while Karl Rove's American Crossroads and its nonprofit affiliate had only a 6 percent success rate.
In addition to measures that may help increase union numbers, labor leaders are also expecting the Obama administration to issue more regulations targeting workplace safety. Proposed rules to protect workers from cancer-causing and lung-damaging silica, often found in the dust at construction sites and glass manufacturing operations, have languished at the White House for more than a year. The administration also has delayed new standards for combustible dust that can cause explosions.
Business groups have opposed the regulations, saying they overreach and would raise employers' costs by millions of dollars.
AP Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
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