By TIM ROWDEN
New laws in Missouri take effect on Aug. 28 each year, and a bevy of bad bills became bad laws this year, but the deceptively named anti-worker “right-to-work (for less)” wasn’t one of them.
That’s thanks to the hundreds of union volunteers and Missouri workers who collected 310,567 signatures on a Citizens Referendum to halt implementation of Senate Bill 19 and put the disastrous anti-union, anti-worker bill on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide.
Meanwhile, the state’s Republican-led legislature and grinningly anti-worker Gov. Eric Greitens were able to pass – or allow to become law by refusing to veto – several pieces of legislation designed to cut the wages and revoke the rights of Missouri workers in favor of the politicians’ Big Business dark money backers.
Here’s a look at some of what they did and how workers, activists and pro-worker office holders are responding:
BAN ON PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENTS
Local governments are now banned from entering into Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).
The so-called “Fairness in Public Construction Act” – a blatant attack on unions, made all the more obvious by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s presence alongside Gov. Greitens at the May 30 signing ceremony – bans PLAs, which require contractors to pay a county’s prevailing wage, usually the union wage, and abide by collective bargaining agreements for public works projects. Under the law, Missouri’s cities and counties will lose state funding or tax credits for two years if they require a PLA.
PLAs ensure a safe, trained workforce on public construction projects like schools, roads and bridges by guaranteeing quality, on-time work on a tight budget, said Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO. They protect the public investment by weeding out unqualified contractors and keeping projects on schedule, with fewer injured workers and no strikes or work disputes.
“Now, thanks to Governor Greitens and certain Republicans in the Missouri Legislature, local governments will no longer have that tool to ensure safe, quality work on our public buildings and infrastructure,” Louis said, “and we all will pay the price.”
MINIMUM WAGE ROLLBACK
In a stunning act of cruelty, the legislature passed a bill – and Gov. Greitens allowed it to become law without his signature – rolling back the local $10 minimum wage in St. Louis and prohibiting municipalities like St. Louis and Kansas City from setting their own minimum wage. Low-wage workers in St. Louis received the higher wage for a couple of months, then saw their wages cut back last week.
Working people, business owners, local elected officials and activists have responded with the Raise Up Missouri initiative to place a measure on the November 2018 ballot to raise the minimum wage to $8.60 in 2019 and 85 cents each year after, capping at $12 in 2023. The wage would then continue to rise with the cost-of-living.
More than 500,000, or one in five working Missourians, would see their wages rise by the time the raise is fully implemented, and nearly a million, or one in three working Missourians, would see a benefit from the ripple effects of working people having more money to spend in their communities.
Senate Bill 43 (SB 43) – sponsored by Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) and carried in the House by Representative Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton) gutted the Missouri Human Rights Statute, which protects employees who have been discriminated against in the workplace based on their age, ancestry, color, disability, sex, religion, race, or nation of origin.
Romine owns Show-Me Rent-to-Own, a chain of furniture stores in southeast Missouri embroiled in a discrimination lawsuit. The new law will not retroactively affect the case pending against Romine’s business but it will make it harder for workers to win similar suits in the future.
The law was the impetus for a “travel advisory” issued by the NAACP, which says the law is a sign that minorities should be wary when traveling through the state, and has drawn a rebuke from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which said the law will make Missouri inconsistent with the federal Fair Housing Act, putting an estimated $600,000 in federal funding in jeopardy.
As a bonus for employers, the new law also alters rules for whistleblowers and puts limits on how employment lawsuits can be filed.
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, the state’s only Democratic statewide office holder, is fighting back by reminding state employees they can use the Whistleblower Hotline by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 800-347-8597 to report waste, fraud or mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.
Galloway has also proposed a legislative fix, the State Auditor’s Public Employee Whistleblower Act, to restore protections and add safeguards to ensure public employees can report inappropriate activity in the workplace without fear of retaliation or intimidation.
Senator Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) and House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) are planning to file the bill in the upcoming legislative session.