By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – The fiery, often partisan debate over right-to-work legislation made its way into the Missouri Senate March 10.
The Senate Small Business Committee met in a packed hearing room to discuss Senate Bill 127 (SB127), sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown (R-Rolla).
Brown and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder both defended the bill with arguments bashing workers and unions, and urging the panel to jump on the right-to-work/“freedom to work” bandwagon, despite the overwhelming evidence – which they pooh-poohed – that it would hurt rather than help the state’s economy.
Kinder’s blustering testimony was immediately followed by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a union supporter and steadfast opponent of right-to-work.
“I’m very, very proud that St. Louis is a strong union town,” Slay said. “It’s one that has outstanding union leadership.”
Slay explained to the panel that unions actually help bring jobs to the state, noting Boeing’s recently announced plans to bring 2,000 jobs to the St. Louis area.
“That would not happen without the strong leadership of organized labor in St. Louis and the state of Missouri,” Slay said to the thunderous applause
Missouri workers and right-to-work opponents who also attended the three-hour hearing said unions help provide better wages, superior health care and pension benefits.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill March 10, but voted the next week to advance the measure to the full Senate. (See update in the March 26-April 1 issue of the Labor Tribune print edition.)
Wisconsin passed its own version of right-to-work on March 9, becoming the 25th state in the nation to enact the anti-worker, union busting law.
Hoffman Construction, a major road building and mining company in Wisconsin, was the first company in the Dairy State to respond to the anti-worker law.
Company owner James Hoffman told the Duluth News Tribune he planned to expand his operations in worker-friendly Minnesota because he believes the right-to-work law will make it more difficult for him to find skilled workers, which will ultimately cost his company money.
By Mike Louis
As the hearings began March 10 in a jam packed hearing room, it was quite evident that there were many more people than just union leaders; business owners, political leaders and members of the Faith Community joined rank-and-file members testifying in opposition to so-called right-to-work bills.
Some 15 witnesses spoke against the legislation, beginning with business owners who emphatically said they were against the bill. One by one they made the point that their businesses have done very well because they have well-trained, professional workers who know how to get the job done both safely and efficiently.
Deacon Mike Lewis of St Patrick’s Parish from Kansas City and Reverend Martin Rafanan from St. Louis testified to the ill effects right-to-work would have on communities across the state. They presented the panel of senators with signed petitions as well as statements from various congregations urging the senators to vote against this outrageous law.
Finally, it was the workers turn to talk.
UFCW 655 member Terresa Hester (Shop ‘N Save) gave riveting, emotional testimony explaining how she raised her daughter as a single mom, was able to get off state assistance, managed to buy a home and is putting herself and her daughter through college all because she went to work every day, worked hard, got paid good wages and had great health and pension benefits that were provided by her UFCW Local 655 union contract.
UFCW 655 member Laurie Giannini (Schnucks) pointed out RTW would take away any hope of fairness on the job for workers. She told the story of being fired from a real estate company because a new salesman didn’t like her and gave the company an ultimatum that she would quit if Lori weren’t fired. “Where do you think that went?” she said explaining it left her as a single mom and her children out in the cold with no one to protect her.
PROOF: RTW IS WRONG FOR MISSOURI
The entire room was brought to one of the most emotional endings of a hearing I have ever seen. I applaud Ms. Hester and Ms. Giannini for the courage they showed; their testimonies spoke truth-to-power on behalf of all of the Missouri labor movement.
I know that we have friends on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, and if this hearing didn’t prove to those senators, who are not our friends that right-to-work is wrong for Missouri, well, those senators must have a hidden agenda drafted by special interests, built on corporate greed.