By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – Missouri Republicans are bent on making Missouri the worst state in the nation for working people.
Passing last year’s so-called “right-to-work (for less)” legislation wasn’t enough. Banning public entities from entering Project Labor Agreements wasn’t enough. Now, under a plan advancing in the Legislature, they want to reduce the length of time workers can collect unemployment insurance to one of the lowest in the nation.
Lawmakers in a House committee recently approved legislation that would shorten the length of time laid-off workers could receive unemployment from 20 weeks to just 13 weeks if the state’s jobless rate is below six percent.
The current unemployment rate is 3.5 percent. That means most people who are able to work currently have jobs, which means most jobs that pay a decent wage are currently filled. Still, there are plenty of openings for jobs that don’t pay a decent wage.
Minimum wage jobs that only require Missouri employers to pay $7.70 an hour are almost always available. But who can support themselves or their families on $7.70 an hour?
Even working full-time, that only comes to $308 a week for a 40-hour week, or $16,016 a year. That’s hardly enough to survive on.
Missouri Republicans don’t care. House Bill 1409, which has the backing of the Associated Industries of Missouri, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Retailers Association, the Missouri Grocers Association and the National Federation of Independent Business Missouri, would lower the benefit period to just 13 weeks, which means if you’re out of work and have bills to pay, you’re probably going to end up taking a minimum wage job – or two, or three – just to make ends meet.
The plan to cut unemployment has been in the works for three years. A 2015 version of the change was found unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court. A similar version was approved in the House last year, but due to party in-fighting, failed to get taken up in the Senate.
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), who is sponsoring the legislation, says the plan could save the state money and help businesses by reducing the chances that money to pay the benefits would run low during times of high unemployment.
‘WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE IS WRONG’
Opponents called the bill out for its unique cruelty.
“We are doing our constituents a disservice when we shorten the time,” said Rep. Karla May (D-St. Louis), a member of Communication Workers of America Local 6300 and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
“I think it’s crazy,” added Rep. Doug Beck (D-Affton), a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562. “I think what we’re doing here is wrong.”
Rep. Joe Runions (D-Grandview), a retired member of IBEW Local 124, called the proposal “disgusting.”
“It’s not fair to the working people when we take and make enormous cuts for businesses,” Runions said.