In San Jose and San Diego Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly passed measures that cut public employee pension programs and voters in Wisconsin rejected a recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has taken on government employee unions in his state, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Political observers say what happened in California and Wisconsin will make it difficult for unions to resist concessions.
"Not only will it embolden some governors in subtle ways, but it will also make legislators more inclined to question the potency of unions," said E.J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. "If you have enough money, you can beat them in a state like Wisconsin."
"It's a turning point for the union -- its going to define their very existence," said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor who specializes in labor issues. "There are some very new challenges out there that are going to require a very innovative union that can move quickly and address challenges in new ways."
Analysts say the June 18 election for the leadership of the 1.6-million member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Los Angeles will show how organized labor will adjust its tactics to reflect new realities.
The race is between Lee Saunders, who plays a big role in the group's current leadership, and Danny Donohue, a New York labor leader who is pushing for change. Both have selected women from Southern California as running mates.
"The new leadership of AFSCME can either show a new direction of public sector unionism, or it can show the same old," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Massachusetts. "This vote is really about the future of public sector unionism. That means it is also a vote about the future of the labor movement."