Over 400 from across state learn campaign details, make preparations
By ED FINKELSTEIN
Jefferson City – To a standing-room crowd of more than 400 labor, civic, religious and constituency group leaders from across the state, the Missouri AFL-CIO detailed a 10-point Citizens Referendum campaign to stop the so-called “right-to-work” (for less) from becoming law in Missouri.
The campaign must turn in more than 160,000 valid signatures of registered voters by Aug. 27, the day before the law would take effect. If successful, implementation of RTW would be shut down until a 2018 election called for in the referendum. Signature collection is expected to begin within the next 60 days.
Key to launching the program is obtaining final approval for the language on a Citizens Referendum from the Secretary of State, which is currently playing games with the approval process in order to slow down the campaign’s momentum.
The Feb. 23 meeting at the Capitol Plaza Hotel covered a wide variety of topics to help leadership understand the campaign’s concept and obtain an overview of how it will proceed and, also, details on specific elements of the campaign.
Central themes throughout the meeting were:
- REGISTRATION - The immediate need for every union and concerned group to make sure their members, family members and friends are registered to vote. Only registered voters can sign the petition.
- UNITY - Ensuring unity of purpose between all groups working to defeat RTW.
- UNION CONTACT - Appointing a contact person in every local union, supportive organization and worksite to allow coordination and a rapid flow of information throughout the campaign. These coordinators will be “lynchpins” in the campaign, Laborers Local 110 Political Director Clint McBride said.
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“Missouri is one voice on this issue,” said Missouri State Labor Council President Mike Louis, noting that a wide range of groups were at the meeting – representatives from almost every local union in the state, the NAACP, veterans, retiree groups, St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters’ Regional Council, United Auto Workers, the Faith/Labor Alliance, Teamsters, Committee to Protect MO Families and Preserve Middle Class Missouri.
“This unity is what we need to win, and we will win,” said Council Secretary-Treasurer and Missouri Senator Jake Hummel, acting as master-of-ceremonies. “But to do it, we’ll have to contact not only every union member, but every worker, every concerned citizen in this state who is going to be ripped off by RTW.”
The majority of the daylong program covered tactics that will be used in the upcoming referendum campaign, a review of an Ohio campaign that defeated a RTW law and also the research being done to ensure the upcoming effort is on target. For obvious reasons, since a lot of the “bad guys” read the Labor Tribune in an effort to track union efforts, specific campaign details are not being reported, but topics included:
- An overview of the successful 2011 campaign in Ohio to overturn a Republican-controlled legislature’s restrictive public employee bargaining bill, given by A.J. Stokes, a principal with JVA Campaigns, who orchestrated the campaign to defeat the bill.
Stokes quipped that when they turned in the 1,505 boxes of signatures, the Secretary of State called for an engineering inspection of their building to ensure it could carry the weight of all the petitions!
As for those fighting to pass RTW, Stokes said, “their intent is to solidify their power over workers for decades to come.”
He cautioned that they will “use government against you” in an effort to delay the Missouri referendum. That is already under way.
- Efforts by Preserve Middle Class Missouri, a citizens movement, over the past six years to help defeat RTW efforts while Jay Nixon was governor and more recently to help chart a course for the upcoming Citizens Referendum.
UFCW Local 655 President David Cook, who serves as president of Preserve, and campaign consultant Brian Treece, chairman TreecePhillips LLC, a nationally recognized issues consulting firm, gave a detailed review of research efforts and potential campaign messages.
Cook said millions of dollars in dark money was spent to pass RTW, and that we can expect many millions more to flood Missouri in an effort to defeat the Citizens Referendum. He urged conference attendees to consider making contributions to Preserve to help fund what will be an expensive campaign even after a successful signature-gathering petition drive.
“We expect to begin the signature-collecting effort in 30 to 50 days,” he said, noting that first they have to get it through the Secretary of State’s games, finalize the campaign’s structure and provide training for petition gatherers.
But, he added, we can expect more legal attempts to delay the effort. And they, too, will be expensive.
- Digital strategies to enhance member communications about this effort and get their buy-in and participation were outlined by Braxton Payne, director of Digital Media of Show Me Victories, the region’s premier campaign consulting firm. The group provides digital services to a variety of clients including major local unions as part of their consulting expertise.
Payne outlined the variety of digital platforms now available to reach out, in real time, to get information to, and feedback from, members. He urged unions to use these platforms to tell their positive stories not only to their members but also the broader community.
- Legal questions about the effort were answered by Jim Falk, of Hartnett Gladney Hetterman, L.L.C., who has been the Labor Council’s guiding light on the legal front.
An important point to remember, he reminded everyone: “Don’t sign more than one petition” because if that happens, the person’s signatures will not be counted. Also, petition gatherers do not have to be registered voters themselves, but obviously they cannot sign the petition unless they are.
Details of the petition gathering process will be outlined as part of the training that will take place soon.
- A legislative update by State Labor Council Political Director Merri Berry (UFCW Local 655) and key worker lobbyists Kenny Menges (SMART TD Local 933), Richard Craighead (Steelworkers Local 790) and Clark Brown (SEIU Local 1).