1,000 turn out for St. Louis Building and Construction Trades rally to meet the candidates, get out the vote
By TIM ROWDEN
St. Charles, MO –The Nov. 8 general election could well determine the future of collective bargaining in Missouri.
It’s not just the Republican controlled Generally Assembly’s push for so-called “right-to-work,” and the wealthy special interests that are backing them, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster told union members at a rally Oct. 4.
“The goal is not just ‘right-to-work’” Koster said. “It’s collective bargaining itself…They want collective bargaining gone.”
So-called “right-to-work” would prohibit unions from negotiating contracts requiring employees of unionized businesses to pay union dues or fair share fees.
Speaking to about 1,000 union members at a rally at the Family Arena hosted by the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, Koster said the wages and security of working people in the state depend on what happens in his race on Nov. 8. He promised to veto “right-to-work” if the Republican-dominated Legislature again passes it. His Republican opponent, Eric Greitens, has promised to sign it.
Greitens is backed by, among other special interests, union-hater David Humphreys, president and CEO of Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products.
Humphreys and his family have spent this year trying to buy enough statewide and legislative candidates to make Missouri a so-called “right-to-work” state. Humphreys recently dumped another $500,000 into Greitens campaign and has spent $10 million to date trying to drive down wages and weaken unions.
“That’s $10 million from one single individual looking to terrorize Labor in the state of Missouri,” said John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council. “This one individual is investing $10 million to defeat all candidates supportive of working class people in our state.”
“We must take this election as a referendum on the working class just like in the 1978 ‘right-to-work’ referendum,” Stiffler said. “The working class people cannot compete with billionaires’ campaign contributions. But we can compete with our votes, our families’ votes and our fellow workers’ votes.”
IMPACT OF ‘RIGHT-TO-WORK’
Koster related two stories that are emblematic of the economic impact of “right-to-work” and the mindset of those who favor it.
The first was a story he has told before in other forums about the Rulo Bridge, which connects Holt County, Mo. to Richardson County, Neb. The bridge was rebuilt by both states with workers meeting in the middle.
Nebraska’s right-to-work status meant lower wages for its workers.
The Missouri workers on project were making more than $31.50 an hour, Koster said. In Nebraska, a so-called “right-to-work” state, workers were set to make $8.50 an hour, but the contractor agreed to pay all of the workers the Missouri wage.
“The family that faces life at $8.50 an hour with no pension and little to no healthcare has a completely different future in this country than the family that approaches life at $31.50 an hour with a secure healthcare plan and a way to retire,” Koster said.
The second story had to do with heating and air-conditioning manufacturer Carrier Corp.’s announcement in February that it was moving production from a plant in Indianapolis, Ind., another “right-to-work” state, to a plant in Monterey, Mexico, where workers will make about $18 a day, or about $2.35 an hour.
“But folks, Indiana is a ‘right-to-work’ state. This was not supposed to happen,” Koster said. “The leaders in Indiana who espouse this vision had gone to the people in Indiana and they said if you just give up some of your right to collectively bargain, if you give up your security, if you cut back on your pension, if you give us your health care back then we will protect you….
“My job… in the next four years and beyond, and your job standing with me as we go forward to Nov. 8, is to make certain the people of Missouri never make such a foolish mistake.”
The AFL-CIO has made electing Koster a national priority because of his position on “right-to-work,” which would significantly weaken unions, thus lowering wages statewide for union and non-union workers alike.
Workers in so-called “right-to-work” states make about 15 percent less than workers in non-“right-to-work” states.
“All of us, you and I, stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us,” Koster said, “Our job is to make sure that the generations that come after you and me look back and say that we did right by the people of Missouri.”
Other speakers at the rally included Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jason Kander, former U.S. Representative Russ Carnahan, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor; state Representative Bill Otto of Maryland Heights, the Democratic candidate for the 2nd District U.S. House Seat; state Senator Scott Sifton of Affton, who is seeking re-election; and Missouri House Minority Leader and Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Jake Hummel (IBEW Local 1), who is running for the 4th District State Senate seat in St. Louis.
KANDER: SHARPLY CRITICAL OF BLUNT
Kander, the Missouri secretary of state, who last week received the endorsement of the St. Louis Building Trades Council, was sharply critical of GOP incumbent Senator Roy Blunt, who he said could use his influence as the state’s top elected Republican to get Republican state legislators to stop their war on workers.
“With one phone call he could end this war on unions that’s taking place in the State Legislature,” Kander said. “But he does nothing about it. He lets it happen.
“Missourians are not clamoring for fewer rights and lower wages in the workplace,” Kander said. “What they want is a level playing field.”
Kander didn’t come to the Labor Movement through politics. He is a former member of United Transportation Union Local 933 and represented their members in court. He also was part of the legal team that helped get the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police recognized for the first time by the Kansas City Police Department.
Kander noted that Blunt has repeatedly voted against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to form unions.
He said Blunt also backed a plan to undermine overtime laws, voted to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements that ship American jobs overseas, threatened to withhold funding from the National Labor Relations Board and earlier this year reaffirmed his support for a measure that could cut Teamsters’ pensions by up to 70 percent.
“We need more people who understand that the middle class needs a tax cut more than a multinational corporation needs another tax loophole,” Kander said. “…We need more people who understand it’s wrong when women are paid less than men for doing the exact same job… We need people who understand that the minimum wage has to be a livable wage, and people who understand that America is at its best when our middle class is at its strongest.”
CARNAHAN: TEAR DOWN POLITICS
Carnahan thanked union members for their hard work, both in their respective trades and in building an economy and a middle class that for years has made America strong.
“Unfortunately, in politics these days, we’ve seen a lot of people that are not building, they’re not trying to bring people together to get things done. They just want to tear down.
“They want to slash taxes for the super wealthy. They want to cut all of your wages. They want to break unions and strangle state budgets so we don’t even have the money to invest in good public schools, in infrastructure and health care. That’s the battle we have before us,” Carnahan said.
“We’ve seen what’s happened in other states,” Carnahan said. “Take a look at our neighboring state of Kansas. They’ve taken this economic theory that some people just talk about, and they actually did it. They actually implemented it. The state of Kansas is falling apart. Teachers are leaving, businesses are leaving. That’s not the way I want our state to be. Do you?”
SIFTON: ‘THE CHOICE IS VERY CLEAR’
Sifton, who faces another Humphreys backed opponent in his re-election bid, is a staunch supporter of working families and has spent countless hours on the floor of the Senate with Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors) (retired member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1) filibustering anti-worker bills like so-called “right-to-work” and paycheck deception.
Sifton related the story of when he first decided to run for the Legislature during the Great Recession when his neighbors, a three-income family, lost their home and he watched helplessly as their young sons played in their backyard for the last time. Sifton said the same thing had happened to him when his was 15, when his father lost his job and his family lost their home.
“I have seen what can happen to families in hard times,” Sifton said. “I have experienced it.
“And that is why when the Republican majority brought ‘right-to-work’ to the floor, brought paycheck deception to the floor, brought attacks on unemployment benefits to the floor, I stood and joined and led in the fight against that legislation.”
Sifton said union members needed to look no further than what’s happening to the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers at Schnucks to see what’s at stake in this election.
“The choice is very clear,” Sifton said. “We can continue to have strong protections for collective bargaining in Missouri. We can continue to have strong protections for those unfortunate families who find themselves experiencing unemployment in times of need. Or we can destroy all of that and put a lot of families underwater and have more foreclosures like the one that happened literally in my own back yard.”
OTTO: ‘SOMEONE WHO GIVES A DAMN’
Otto, a founding member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, is running to unseat anti-worker Congresswoman Ann Wagner.
Otto proudly reported that while he was in the State Legislature worker-friendly representatives and senators were able to stop attacks on prevailing wage, stop paycheck deception legislation and prevent an override of Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of so-called “right-to-work.”
“As your Congressman, I promise to take that same fight to trade deals like the TPP that threaten our jobs here at home,” Otto said. “I promise to protect our retirement from a broken Congress and the companies that threaten to cut our benefits in half …. We bail out companies that are too big to fail, it’s time to treat our own the same. It’s time to send someone to Washington D.C. who understands the needs of working families. It’s time to send someone to Washington D.C. who gives a damn about you and not big business.”
Hummel pleaded with union members to get out and canvass, door-knock and work phone banks for Koster and other worker-friendly candidates.
“If we don’t’ have Chris Koster elected as the next governor, by the end of January we will have ‘right-to-work,’ paycheck deception and repeal of prevailing wage,” Hummel said. “They can run those bills through that fast, and we won’t have somebody to back us up with a veto pen. That’s how much is riding on this election.”
Hummel urged all union members at the rally to volunteer for worker-friendly candidates by texting ELECTION to 235246 to stay up-to-day on walks, phone banks and door-knocks.
“It’s not enough to just show up for a rally,” Hummel said. “If we are not educating the rest of our membership, if we are not talking to our neighbors and our friends and our families then we will not be successful, and we need you to do it.”