By TIM ROWDEN
The Missouri Legislature this session passed a right-to-work law and sent it to Gov. Jay Nixon, who said he planned to veto the destructive and deceptively named anti-union, anti-worker legislation.
“Attacking workers and threatening businesses is the wrong economic development strategy for our state and it’s not what Missourians sent us here to do,” Nixon said.
The bill would prohibit security clauses from union contracts, meaning workers who are not union members would no longer pay a fair share free to support the union’s collective bargaining activities, although unions would still be required to offer the same services to all workers under the contract, limiting their ability to negotiate and support workers.
The bill makes it a class C misdemeanor – punishable by 15 days in jail – to require people to pay dues. It requires prosecutors and the attorney general to investigate complaints, and would make violators subject to unlimited civil penalties.
“Attacking workers and weakening the middle class will not create jobs,” Nixon said in a statement issued shortly after the bill’s passage. “In fact, rolling back the rights of working people would weaken our economy by lowering wages and making it harder for middle class families to move up the economic ladder. This bill also takes the extreme step of subjecting Missouri employers to criminal and unlimited civil liability, which would stifle growth and discourage investment in our state. At a time when our economy is picking up steam and businesses are creating good jobs, this so-called right-to-work bill would take Missouri backwards.”
‘SHAME ON YOU’
Close to 1,000 union members traveled to the State Capitol to testify before a Senate committee on the right-to-work bill.
David Cook, president of the 10,000 member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, questioned how unions could be the cause of Missouri’s economic woes, as backers of the bill claim, when union membership in the state is down to a dismal 6 percent.
“I don’t know how 6 percent of our population could be the problem of our economy,” Cook said.
“There are approximately 1,000 union members here today,” Cook said, referring to the large showing of Missouri union members who crowded into the Capitol to urge legislators to kill the bill before it made it to the Senate. “Where are the union members that are in favor of it? They’re not out there! This is nothing more than a corporate power grab.”
Terry Nelson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters District Council, which represents 22,000 union workers in the state, questioned whether legislators really understood what they were attacking.
“We as a union sent out checks last month for $12.7 million for health and welfare benefits, $13.6 million in pension benefits. We have 1,198 signatory contractors. And you’re trying to make us adversaries?”
Nelson went on to explain the relationship between trades unions and their signatory contractors.
“I give them the opportunity to make a profit,” he said. “They give me an opportunity to give my members work. And you want to take that opportunity away? Shame on you! You don’t have that right.
“If you take away from me and my union to negotiate a living wage and benefits, again, I say shame on you!”
Although the committee passed the right-to-work measure on to the Senate floor, where it passed, the hard work of many union members – and principled lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who rejected partisan politics to stand with working families – the votes in favor of the legislation in both the House and Senate fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
Not that the extremist Republican backers pushing the right-to-work effort, or their backers in the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, are letting that stop them.
The Chamber is planning a campaign to convince lawmakers to change their votes, override the Governor’s expected veto, and stick it to those troublesome union workers who want to earn a living wage for their families.
Nixon – long a friend of working families – said he would spend part of the summer working to shore-up opposition to a possible veto override.
‘AN AGENDA OF CRUELTY’
As they were attacking worker protections with right-to-work legislation, GOP lawmakers also did their best to shred the safety net for unemployed workers, passing a bill that would reduce the state’s unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate drops below 6 percent, as it is now.
Nixon vetoed the bill and the House overrode his veto, but the Senate failed to follow suit, after Senate Democrats successfully blocked the passage of any further legislation following last week’s right-to-work vote.
Republicans also passed legislation to restrict welfare benefits, commonly known as TANF, to three years and nine months, down from the current five-year limit.
Nixon vetoed the bill, but the General Assembly overrode his action. About 6,000 low-income children in Missouri are expected to lose benefits when the bill goes into effect Jan. 1.
House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis), a member of IBEW Local 1, said Republicans seem “to have an agenda of cruelty toward poor people – poor children especially. ”
(Some information for this story from MissouriNet, St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)