By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – As Missouri Governor Eric Greitens was signing Senate Bill 19 into law on Feb. 6, making Missouri the 28th “right-to-work” state, a petition seeking the referral of the legislation to Missouri voters was filed the very same day with the Missouri Secretary of State.
The petition was filed by Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis and Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel.
According to Missouri’s Constitution, legislation passed by the Missouri General Assembly must be referred to voters if five percent of voters from two-thirds of Missouri’s congressional districts order it, creating a citizens’ veto.
“In today’s economy, employers and their employees need to work together to create and keep good-paying jobs,” Louis said. “This referendum stops corrupt politicians and the corporate special interests from trying to micro-manage the private sector and interfere with contracts negotiated between employees and employers.”
As approved by the Missouri General Assembly, Senate Bill 19 creates a misdemeanor for employers who negotiate a union shop provision in contracts with their unions.
Acting out the wishes of his out-of-touch corporate CEOs, Gov. Eric Greitens signed the “right-to-work” Senate Bill 19.
“Gov. Greitens is putting Missouri on the same dangerous path of job loss, lower wages and more dangerous work places as Oklahoma and other states that have adopted these anti-working families laws,” Louis said.
“This referendum will guarantee that employers in Missouri can decide for themselves how to run their businesses and reach agreements with their employees without government intervention.”
Merri Berry, political director for the Missouri AFL-CIO, said petitioners have until Aug. 27 — the day before the “right-to-work” measure is scheduled to go into effect — to collect some 140,000 signatures of registered voters to place the law on the ballot. If the petition drive succeeds, “right-to-work” won’t take effect until Missourians get the chance to have their say in 2018.
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According to research complied by the Missouri Legislative Academy, citizens have rejected the legislature’s actions 24 of 26 times via Referral Referendums. The only two times the citizens did not overturn the legislature were both in the 1920’s.
Missouri voters solidly rejected “right-to-work” in a statewide vote in 1978.
David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 predicted they will do so again.
“I am absolutely confident with everything I’ve seen in the polls that when Missouri voters have a chance to vote on this issue they are going to overturn this government overreach and defeat ‘right-to-work,’ just as they did in 1978,” Cook said. “Missouri voters have no desire for government overreach to take us backward on wages and working conditions to benefit an elite few.”
DISAPPOINTMENT WITH LEGISLATIVE ACTION
To the disappointment of every union member and every Missourian who works for a paycheck, the Missouri House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 19 on a 100-to-59 vote sending the so-called “right-to-work” bill to Governor Greitens, who made good on his promise to sign it Feb. 6 in a series of ceremonies in Springfield, Poplar Bluff and at the State Capitol in Jefferson City.
“Right-to-work” inserts government into the negotiating process by prohibiting unions and companies from negotiating labor contracts that require workers to pay either dues or a “fair share fee” for the union representation they receive. The result, unless workers stick together, unions become financially weaker, making it harder to organize and negotiate on behalf of all workers, members and non-members alike. Wages and other benefits gradually go down.
“So-called ‘right-to-work’ makes it more difficult for working people to make themselves heard,” said St. Louis University professor and SEIU Local 1 member Jameson Ramirez. “It will lower wages, slash benefits, and put a secure retirement out of reach for thousands of hardworking Missouri families.”
As it stands, the law will take effect in August, but contains a narrow “grandfather clause” that protects union contracts already in place until they expire or are modified. That clause leaves open how minor of a change would be considered a modification.
“By passing so-called ‘right-to-work,’ Governor Greitens and other politicians in Jefferson City chose millionaire CEOs and out-of-state corporate special interests over Missouri’s working families,” said Al Bond, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis – Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council.
“The bill signed into law by Governor Greitens is a vicious assault on Missouri’s working families. This bill is not only bad policy that will lower wages, benefits and workplace safety for Missouri’s working families, but it’s legally flawed. The St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council will continue to fight for Missouri’s working families.”
A SENSE OF RESIGNATION
Hundreds of union members from across the state packed the Capitol galleries with a sense of resignation as the bill moved to final passage.
Representative Doug Beck (D-Affton) a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, made a last-ditch effort to include an amendment that would have taken the measure to a public vote as he had with the House version of the bill, but the amendment was easily defeated by the Republican supermajority in the House.
“I have tried not to take this personally but, with 30 years as a member of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, it is hard,” Beck said in an impassioned speech on the House floor. (See related story.)
“It is abundantly clear that Republicans are fearful,” Beck said in a release after the bill was passed. “They are fearful of the evident fact that the people don’t want this legislation. They don’t want their employment benefits, workplace safety or good wages taken away. They asked for protection and consideration, and Republicans let them down.”
AND THE GOVERNOR SKIPPED TOWN
Shortly after SB 19 was approved, several hard-working Missourians made their way to the governor’s office to express their concerns and ask him to veto the measure.
Greitens was not in the building, however, having chosen that day to travel to a preschool in Nixa, MO to lay out his budget priorities.
“I joined a union because I wanted to be in a union,” said Jake Crismon, a member of Sheet Metal Workers (SMART) Local 36. “I work with contractors that aren’t forced to be in a union either. I think this is government overreach from Jefferson City.”
Leslie Hall, a United Steelworkers Local 713 member, noted that because her plant is union, it helps to build up the wages in the entire area.
“There are several manufacturing plants in neighboring towns that are not union, but competing with us,” Hall said. “They keep their wages high, and they keep their safety issues where OSHA expects them to be. I just want Governor Greitens to realize that if wages fall at my plant, they will fall in the entire area, and people won’t have money.”
The hard-working constituents that Greitens is supposed to represent flooded his office with calls and emails in the days and weeks leading up to the vote expressing their fears of the looming dangers of Missouri changing to a so-called “right-to-work” state. They also participated in surveys that overwhelmingly showed that Missourians do not want “right-to-work.”
Remington Research Group, founded by GOP strategist Jeff Roe, released a poll showing support of “right-to-work” at a mere 39 percent.
KMOV in St. Louis conducted a Facebook Live Survey, taken by about 15,000 people – with over 12,000 people opposing “right-to-work.” The poll continued through the weekend with 52,355 people participating as of Monday morning – 28,438 opposed “right-to-work.”
Despite proponents claims that so-called “right-to-work” will attract new businesses and more jobs to the state, the truth is Missouri added more jobs than any of its “right-to-work” neighbor states over the 12-month span of November 2015 – 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Kansas City Business Journal noted that while Missouri added nearly 51,000 jobs, neighboring “right-to-work” state Kansas lost 5,300 jobs putting it close to the bottom in the nation at number 47.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average person in a “right-to-work” state makes $6,109 less per year than workers in free-bargaining states.
In addition, they have 13 percent lower health benefits, and according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and a 49 percent higher chance of getting killed on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s appalling that the GOP is so eager to snatch the security and opportunities of so many families away,” said House Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City). “That’s not the type of message we should be sending to our constituents.”
Republicans have long sought to pass “right-to-work” in Missouri, but those efforts were previously thwarted by a bipartisan coalition of Democrats, worker-friendly Republicans and Democratic Governor Jay Nixon.
Last November’s elections changed all of that. With the defeat of Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the governor’s race, the writing was on the wall, and it was just a question of how soon “right-to-work” would be passed.
Millions of dollars in dark and not-so-dark money poured into last fall’s campaigns to buy control of the governor’s mansion and the Missouri Legislature.
Union-hater David Humphreys, president and CEO of Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products Inc., and his family spent $14 million during the campaign cycle supporting candidates who supported “right-to-work” and targeting those who had previously voted against it.
The infamous Koch brothers, David and Charles, the right-wing billionaire owners of Koch Industries also funded Missouri legislators’ campaigns through the Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
“It’s upsetting that you have an in-state multi-millionaire and out-of-state corporate interests that have bought our election process,” said State Senator Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis) a member of IBEW Local 1 and secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “All this is going to do is drive down wages and weaken bargaining strength, and that’s the purpose of the legislation.”