David and Goliath – fighting Prop A (‘right-to-work’) in Missouri: A union member speaks out

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IBEW Local 1 President Don Bresnan, Jr. (center) with some of his members, delivering the message to Vote NO on Prop A on Aug. 7. – IBEW Local 1 photo

By JOHN KAHRHOFF

IBEW Local 1

I am a third generation, 36-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1.

On Tuesday, Aug. 7, Missouri voters will vote on Proposition A, a so-called "right-to-work" ballot measure that will be detrimental to working families and our state.

You've heard a lot about this costing families over $8,700 a year in wages alone, to say nothing of reducing fringe benefits. You’ve heard how it will make worksites less safe, and how fewer will be able to get employer-sponsored health care. I feel it’s important for union members, and those who support our unions, to have a more in-depth understanding of how Proposition A will hurt us, our employers, and everyone in our state.

So let's look at the exact language of the ballot measure (https://tinyurl.com/y8og3yla) and consider the facts, supported by sources, exposing the misleading language of the measure.

'FORCED' MEMBERSHIP

BALLOT LANGUAGE: "Do the people of the state of Missouri want to adopt Senate Bill 19 ("Right-to-Work") as passed by the general assembly in 2017, which prohibits as a condition of employment the forced membership in a labor organization (union) or forced payments of dues in full or pro-rata (fair-share)?"

Believing employees are “forced” to join unions, voters may respond emotionally to what appears unjust. The truth? No one is forced to join a union. Workers select union representation through a democratic election process governed by federal agents of the National Labor Relations Board. (https://tinyurl.com/cdger34). Only a majority vote of the workers can unionize a workplace.

A portion of the union contract called the Union Security clause, recognizes the union as the exclusive bargaining representative for all employees, guaranteeing everyone in the unit representation whether or not they join the union. Since the union must represent all employees, regardless of whether or not they become members, courts have ruled private sector unions can charge a lesser fee for representation of non-members. This is called a "fair-share" fee. (https://tinyurl.com/yb8qty62).

WHY FAIR SHARE?

Employees can choose not to join the union, but these employees must pay a fee smaller fee than dues for the representation they receive. The fee amount is determined under strict federal guidelines that include only those costs germane to representation –– such as collective bargaining and contract administration –– and excluding any political activities. (https://tinyurl.com/ydfntkzt).

Unions are non-profits and operate solely on the dues contributions of their members. Making it illegal to collect a fee for the cost of representing non-members will financially eviscerate unions, leaving them with limited ability to collectively bargain on workers' behalf.

CRIMINALIZES UNION EMPLOYERS

BALLOT LANGUAGE: (Proposition A will) "…make any activity which violates employees' rights illegal and ineffective; allow legal remedies for anyone injured as a result of another person violating or threatening to violate employees' rights;"

BOB KAEMMERLEN, owner of Kaemmerlen Electric Company, demonstrates his unwavering commitment to the working men and women of Missouri as he stands with his IBEW Local 1 member-employees in asking you to Vote NO on Prop A on Aug. 7. Prop A (“right-to-work”) because it will hurt ALL workers. Protect your pay, vote NO on Prop A. – IBEW Local 1 photo

This language makes it illegal for any employer to voluntarily sign agreements with Union Security clauses. They would no longer have the legal right to hire exclusively through the pipeline they have established to sustain skilled manpower levels.

BALLOT LANGUAGE: [Proposition A] "…shall not apply to union agreements entered into before the effective date of Senate Bill 19."

This language means existing contracts containing Union Security clauses will remain in effect, but only until the next contract is negotiated.

UNIONS BENEFIT THE ECONOMY

BALLOT LANGUAGE: "State and local government entities expect no costs or savings."

This misleading language implies no impact to the state or community from enacting "right-to-work," but fails to address the wider impact.

In a televised interview (https://twitter.com/IBEWLocal1/status/841050729825632256), former Missouri State Senator Tim Green detailed revenues pumped annually into Missouri’s economy through IBEW Local 1’s partnership with the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association: $55 million in medical benefits; $50 million in pension benefits; $4 million in training; and over $300,000 in give-backs to the community.

That’s an annual economic boon of almost $160 million dollars from just one of the dozens of National and International Unions with local unions in our state.

The Labor Tribune, in its annual "Christmas year round" article (Dec. 21, 2017), reported that just the 35 – out of more than 200 – St. Louis area unions that responded to its survey donated $9,392,792 to charity in the last five years, including $2,027,438 in 2017 alone!

Missouri’s economy will be gravely injured by any law that seeks to scuttle one of its most productive and lucrative economic engines –– Organized Labor.

LET THEM KNOW THE TRUTH

Voters need to know these facts to understand why it's against their best interests to support Proposition A.

For too long the word "union" has been used by the 1% as a pejorative, when it's unions that have always fought, and continue to fight, for workers –– ALL workers.

I hope you will join me in Voting NO on Proposition A on Aug. 7. Every single vote will be needed to defeat this destructive law.

(John Kahrhoff is a union representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1.)

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