By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City, MO – Leaders of AFL-CIO affiliated and non-affiliated unions gathered here June 30 to review the facts of Missouri’s wrong-headed right-to-work legislation (HB116) and vow solidarity in the fight to uphold Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the destructive anti-worker, anti-union, anti-family bill.
You might ask yourself: “Why anti-family?” Because right-to-work (RTW) laws lower wages for everyone. The average worker in a RTW state makes $5,759 less a year than workers in states with union ($41,244 compared with $47,002). Imagine your family trying to get by on nearly $6,000 less per year.
HB116 would make Missouri the 26th RTW state. Gov. Nixon, a longtime friend of working families, vetoed the bill on June 4, but extremist Republicans in the Missouri Legislature –– backed by outside business interests –– are already gearing up to overturn the veto when the Legislature reconvenes Sept. 16 for a veto override session.
“Were it not for Gov. Nixon’s leadership, the fight would already be over,” said Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis. “Were it not for his veto pen, Missouri would be a right-to-work state.”
‘RACE TO THE BOTTOM’
Nixon received a standing ovation when he spoke to the gathering, and expressed his gratitude for union members’ support.
“I appreciate everybody’s hard work and effort out there to hold the veto,” Nixon said. “It’s very important to me. “My brothers and sisters in the building trades taught me about the dignity of doing a hard days work and the pride of having a strong and skilled workforce. This is a battle we’re fighting on our physical home turf.”
Speaking to the impact unions have on wages and working conditions, not just in Missouri or the United States but on a global scale, Nixon said, “It’s up to us to raise the living standards of workers all around the world.
“We are not going to win the future with a race to the bottom. We cannot allow Missouri to become the 26th RTW state. RTW is wrong; it will not work, and that’s why I wasted no time vetoing this destructive legislation.”
UNITY IN CONFLICT
If anything good can be said to have come from the Legislatures unprecedented passage of the anti-family, anti-worker RTW bill it is the unity that has emerged among Missouri’s labor unions, whose workers rightly see this as a fight for their very survival
Electricians and Carpenters, Machinists and Teamsters, Plumbers & Pipefitters, Teachers, Retails Clerks and Transportation Workers, and many more came together in Jefferson City to review the sad and alarming facts of what this legislation and hear from the friends of working families who stood against the legislation during the legislative session.
They included Sen. Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors), a retired member of the Heat & Frost Insulators Local 1 and currently serves as president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.
Walsh led an eight-hour filibuster in the Senate in an attempt to prevent the bill from moving forward, but was silenced when Republican leaders invoked a rarely used parliamentary procedure to end debate. Ironically, Walsh was there as a worker and union member fighting against RTW during the public RTW vote in 1978.
“I was proud to stand with you 37 years ago and I’m proud to stand with you now,” Walsh said.
Walsh and fellow Democrats also fought to replace funding for three prevailing wage inspectors in the state budget after Republicans leaders eliminated them this year.
Walsh encouraged union leaders and their members to remember what happened in this year’s session during next year’s general election, when several representatives and senators are up for re-election and Attorney General Chris Koster is running for governor against Republican anti-worker firebrand Catherine Hanaway.
“Next year is the biggest election year we’ve had in four years,” Walsh said. “We all have to join hands together. This is our biggest fight in 37 years. If we don’t keep the Governor’s Mansion, I don’t see how we can survive.”
WINNING BACK THE LEGISLATURE
As gerrymandered redistricting has giving extremist Republicans near total control in the Missouri Legislature, House Minority Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis), secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO and a member of IBEW Local 1, said unity is the key for workers moving forward.
“We have to be a united labor movement again,” Hummel said. “We have to be coordinated. We have to get some of these seats back. If we don’t, we’re going to be in big trouble.
“We have an electorate that is extremely uninformed,” Hummel said. “They get sound bites, headlines, blurbs. That’s it. Now is the time to start taking back some of these seats. Because if we don’t, it’s all over.”
HB116, Missouri’s right-to-work bill, which Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed on June 4, but which Republicans hope to pass on a veto override in September, would bar 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 would have also made it a class C misdemeanor – punishable by 15 days in jail and unlimited civil penalties – to require people to pay dues.