Anti-union assault spreads to Missouri Senate

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A STANDING ROOM ONLY CROWD, made up mostly of union leaders and rank and file members, packed into a Missouri Senate hearing room, an overflow room and the Capitol hallway last week to testify in a hearing on two “right-to-work” (for less) measures and two measures to modify or do away with the prevailing wage. – Labor Tribune photo
A STANDING ROOM ONLY CROWD, made up mostly of union leaders and rank and file members, packed into a Missouri Senate hearing room, an overflow room and the Capitol hallway last week to testify in a hearing on two “right-to-work” (for less) measures and two measures to modify or do away with the prevailing wage.
– Labor Tribune photo

The anti-worker assault in the Missouri Capitol has spread to the Senate, where two “right-to-work” (for less) bills and two bills to modify or do away with prevailing wage were heard recently before the Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee.

Labor turned out in force, packing two hearing rooms and the Capitol hallway with opponents to testify against the measures, much as they did a week earlier when a “right-to-work” (for less) bill came up before the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee. Two more “right-to-work” (for less) bills were heard before the same House committee the last week.

“This is nothing less than a concerted effort by the Republican controlled legislature to weaken unions and drive down workers’ wages with false and deceptive promises of creating economic prosperity,” Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Mike Louis said. “This is no different than what we’ve seen for the last 10 years, but this year they may have the votes.”

Although none of the measures has been voted out of committee, any one of them could find their way to the House or Senate floors in the coming weeks.

Here’s what’s at stake.

‘RIGHT-TO-WORK

Although supporters deceptively call them “freedom to work,” the “right-to-work” (for less) measures under consideration in the Missouri Legislature (HB77, HB91, HB95, SB76 and SB134) are designed to weaken unions financially and inject government into contract negotiations by forcing union members to support non-union freeloaders, allowing them to get the benefits of the union contract without paying their fair share of the cost. They would protect no one’s right to a job.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon opposes a “right-to-work” (for less) law, but lawmakers could avoid his opposition because two of the measures, House Bill 77, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield), and House Bill 91, sponsored by Rep. Donna Lichtenegger (R-Cape Girardeau), would be submitted to voters instead of the governor.

‘LABOR IS GOOD FOR WORKERS’

Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, cut directly to the heart of the anti-worker, anti-union measures and their false promise of job creation.

“It’s unconscionable to me to think that we have employers here who say this is going to be good for workers. It certainly is not,” Soutier testified. “Labor is good for workers. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t be under attack so much.”

About 11 percent of U.S. workers are unionized, Soutier noted. That leaves 89 percent who are non-union. “Where are their jobs?” he asked.

INCONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE OF JOB CREATION

Sam White, assistant professor with the Labor Education Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, testified in spoken and written testimony citing academic studies that show inconclusive evidence that “right-to-work” (for less) legislation benefits a state’s ability to maintain existing jobs or attract new jobs.

“The total economic development incentive packages proffered by individual states and communities, along with access to markets, are far and away the most decisive factors in attracting new jobs,” White testified.

‘RTW HAS NO PLACE IN MISSOURI’

St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano sat in on the hearing last week, but never got a chance to testify due to the large crowd that had turned out.

Speaking with the Labor Tribune, Pagano skewered proponents claims that businesses would be more attracted to Missouri if it were a “right-to-work” state.

“That’s a false statement,” Pagano said, noting the expansion of the General Motors plant in Wentzville and the recent plant openings of Alpla, a plastic packaging manufacturer, and Zoltek, a carbon-fiber manufacturer, in St. Peters.

“Just in the last 18 months we’ve had a job increase of 3,800 jobs,” Pagano said. “That’s a lot of jobs. Construction jobs are up. Looking at St. Peters and St. Charles County, housing is up…. ‘Right-to-work’ really has no place in Missouri.”

PREVAILING WAGE

Prevailing wage is the pay rate that cities, counties and other governmental entities must, by law, pay for construction projects. The pay rate is calculated by the state's labor department using voluntary wage surveys sent in by labor unions and private contractors. Laws such as the federal Davis-Bacon Act and state prevailing wage laws exist to prevent the purchasing power of the federal, state or local governments from depressing local labor standards by setting off a race to the bottom as contractors underbid one another for government projects by lowering the rate of pay earned by their workers.

The prevailing wage measures under consideration in the Missouri legislature would open the door to out-of-state contractors using low-wage, low-skilled workers raiding jobs from Missouri contractors.

One proposal (SB68) sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson (R-Bolívar) would base the prevailing wage in 89 rural Missouri counties on labor calculations from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, instead of relying on voluntary state reporting. The other measure (SB30), sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown (R-Rolla), would eliminate the prevailing wage altogether.

Emily Martin, president of St. Louis-based Aschinger Electric and a representative of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), which represents 303 employers and approximately 4,000 workers, said the problem with prevailing wage is not that it results in inflated pricing but that too many contractors fail to report their wages.

“The prevailing wage problem there has been is that there is not adequate reporting,” Martin said. “If all contractors would participate in reporting, then the prevailing wage would truly reflect what is the correct wage for that area.” 

Doing away with the prevailing wage, Martin said, would open the door to “transactional contractors” coming in from out-of-state and undercutting local contractors with cut-rate pricing because they pay their workers less and provide no benefits. Those workers, she said aren’t going to be paying Missouri taxes or buying goods and services produced by other Missouri businesses.

Former Democratic Senator Tim Green, of Spanish Lake, said prevailing wage stabilizes local wages, prevents unfair and unregulated bidding and enables communities to protect themselves economically.

As for the myth that prevailing wage drives up prices, Green said “Public works construction shows clearly prevailing wage states spend less per square foot.”

Randy Long, a non-union mechanical contractor from southwestern Missouri sided with labor unions in opposing the bill.

“Everybody deserves a good quality wage in this day and time," Long said.  "We don’t need out-of-state workmen coming in at a lesser rate to compete with us. Prevailing wage needs to be protected for that reason.”

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