By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Dick Kellet is outraged when in the face of attacks on the prevailing wage law, paycheck deception and a push to make Missouri a right-to-work (for less) state, many union members sit back and complain about losing worker rights.
Kellett, a former business representative for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, is head of the North County Labor Club. Any month, on the first Monday, you’ll find him at the podium at the Machinists Aerospace Workers Union Hall in Hazelwood. Union members ranging from the U.S. Postal Workers, construction workers and and Machinists crowd into the meetings. Most are building trades members, but Kellett says there should be far more union members involved in the Club.
“Labor union and non-union, blacks, whites and Hispanics better start sticking together because the only buffer between the working man and the 1 percent are the unions,” Kellett said. “We’re the only people fighting for the little guy.
“Labor’s opponents seem to think where does the working man get the idea they deserve pensions and healthcare when they retire? Every day, the 1 percent who have pensions are trying to take away what working men and women have. Then, they say workers have the gall to say we need a pension. A man works all his life and doesn’t deserve a pension? Some of these greedy billionaires —the same people who put us in the doldrums—want to turn Social Security over to the stock market.”
Kellett believes the masses must get involved and start voting together as a block to protect what we have and reclaim what they have taken away.
“And that means getting up and listening, and helping to make change. Labor clubs would be stronger and more effective if just 50 percent of the union members out there came to the labor club meetings and volunteered to help in campaigns, 90 percent of the time we can win if we just get out and push. We’ve proved it over and over.”
It’s not all business at the Labor Club meetings, however. Much of the benefit is camaraderie and being in a room with like-minded people, said Bob Kezele and Nick Alonzo of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268, long-time members of the Tri-County Labor Club, which includes union members in St. Charles, Warren and Lincoln counties.
There are other clubs in the City of St. Louis, South St. Louis County, Jefferson County, Rockwood and Southeastern Missouri, Warren County, Franklin County, Mineral Area, Northeast Missouri and Mid Missouri.
“I like to stay involved in local politics, and I also like the camaraderie of the union brothers,” Kezele said. “It’s good to come here once a month and learn about what’s happening with laws that politicians are pushing to destroy unions.”
Kezele and Alonzo have helped with candidate phone banks, hand billing and trips to other states for rallies and working the polls.
“I’d tell others who aren’t members of a labor club that being a union member should go hand in hand with politics,” Alonzo said. “We have to keep labor-friendly candidates in office or we’re going to lose everything.”
As for the clubs’ political work, members can volunteer to help do as much or nothing if they want, but Kellett says the first step is to come to the meetings.
“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. There are good Republicans that are pro labor and we support them when they come up,” Kellett said. “With the Right Wing and this Romney ticket working so hard to keep labor down, there should be standing room only at our labor club meetings.”
Kellett said he’s been part of the organized labor scene for years and years, “dating back to the days when politics was hard work, but not near as cutthroat as it is now.”
“We’re going to lose everything we’ve worked and fought for over the years if union members don’t get out and get involved in the political process,” Kellett said. “There are several labor clubs covering the entire St. Louis metropolitan area, so there’s no excuse for not coming.”
With the mindset of politicians at almost polar opposites, working men and women need to keep a close eye out and be vigilant in supporting political representatives who will support working men and women, Kellett said.
“I always say, union members get what they deserve,” Kellett said. “On average, our labor club meetings have sparse attendance, compared to the numbers that should be there. If we all pulled together, we could make a huge difference.”
Sgt. at Arms Butch Hepburn says he enjoys his labor club involvement, but on occasion, he rears up passionately and hits union members with the hard facts.
“Our world is constantly changing, and more often than not, for the worse, but you (members) can do your part to make change by embracing political activism and making your voice heard,” Hepburn said. “You don’t have to be a high-ranking official or even know one to be politically active. All it takes is strong character, unshakable faith and steadfast commitment to a cause.”
Why push for labor-friendly public officials?
Legislators determine laws that affect working familes such as construction projects and workplace safety. The states prevailing wage law, for example, helps promote union construction among municipalities and state agencies. The new Busch Stadium, Edward Jones Dome were built with union workers who were helped by the prevailing wage law. Hundreds of union men and women from nearly all trades worked on those jobs. Hundreds more jobs were created after construction.
Political decisions affecting jobs are influenced by a variety of interests. Organized labor must push for their priorities or risk allowing others’ agendas to shape policy.
The higher the level of political involvement, the more influence you have with officeholders, and the closer you are to the top of the pyramid, the more influence you have.
On average, only 17 percent of the population in a legislator’s district voted for him/her. So, if you voted for your representative, you already have more influence than the 83 percent who did not vote.
The earlier you become involved with candidates, the more committed they become to your ideas, so start now. Getting your voice heard is not as difficult as many people think.
Remember, strength lies in numbers, and as more and more union members move up the pyramid, political influence will continue to grow.
There are labor-political clubs throughout the St. Louis
area and other parts of Eastern Missouri — and you should
become a member of the one in your vicinity.
Get involved and help elect candidates who will help us in
our struggle to provide decent lives for our families.
To join, come to the next meeting — or contact a spokesman
for the club nearest you.
ST. LOUIS CITY LABOR LEGISLATIVE CLUB
Meets at 8 p.m. second Thursday at the St. Louis Police Officers
Association, 3710 Hampton Ave., St. Louis. Call Joe Feldman at 799-9976, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORTH COUNTY LABOR LEGISLATIVE CLUB
Meets at 7 p.m. first Monday each month at Machinists District 837
Hall, 212 Utz Lane, Hazelwood. Call Dick Kellett at (314) 921-7922
or Tom Sansevere at (314) 524-4331.
SOUTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY LABOR POLITICAL
Meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday at Genesis Banquet Center,
2651 Telegraph Rd., St. Louis. Email: SoCoLabor@
JEFFERSON COUNTY LABOR POLITICAL COMMITTEE
Meets second Monday each month (executive board meeting at
6 p.m. and general membership meeting at 7 p.m.) at 4 Main St.,
Festus. Call Bart Velasco at (636) 464-0250.
TRI-COUNTY LABOR LEGISLATIVE CLUB
Meets first Tuesday each month at Tubby Hall, 506 Droste Rd.,
St. Charles. Executive board at 6 p.m. and general membership
at 7 p.m.
WARREN COUNTY LABOR LEGISLATIVE CLUB
Meets at 7 p.m. first Monday each month at Donatelliʼs
Restaurant, 10 Wildcat Drive, Wright City. Call Ron McDaniel
at (636) 745-2215 or (314) 616-7016.
FRANKLIN COUNTY LABOR POLITICAL COMMITTEE
Meets at 7:30 p.m. first Monday each month at Hagieʼs 19th Hole,
618 N. Washington Ave., Union, Mo. Call John Smreker at (636) 388-1070.
MINERAL AREA LABOR LEGISLATIVE CLUB
Meets at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday at the American Legion Post
39, Old Highway 67, Park Hills. Call Travis Barnes at (573) 631-
4395 and Scott Bockenkamp at (573) 366-0802.
NORTHEAST MISSOURI LABOR LEGISLATIVE CLUB
Meets at 6 p.m. fourth Tuesday each month at the American Legion
Hall, 3891 Hwy. MM, Hannibal. Call Mike Riney at (573) 221-5120.
ROCKWOOD LABOR CLUB
Meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday each month at the Eureka-
Pacific Elks Lodge, 19 W. First St., Eureka. Call Jeff Aboussie at
(636) 405-0895 or Tom Leahy, at (314) 291-7399.
MID-MISSOURI LABOR CLUB
Meets at 6:00 p.m. on the first Monday at the Labor Temple, 611
N. Garth, Columbia. Call Russ Unger at (573) 642-1833.
SOUTHEASTERN-MISSOURI LABOR CLUB
Meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday at Rhymerʼs Tavern, 10
Plaza Way, Cape Girardeau, MO. Call J. J. Lane at (573) 335-3014.