The Labor Tribune

Labor News From Our Region

Greitens resignation changes little; Missouri’s wounded workers still have a war to fight

GOV. ERIC GREITENS leaves the podium refusing to answer reporters’ questions after announcing his resignation at a news conference May 29 at the state Capitol in Jefferson City. – Julie Smith/Jefferson City News-Tribune photo

By TIM ROWDEN
Editor

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ resignation amid a flurry of scandals stemming from his extramarital affair, alleged campaign finance violations and the operation of his dark money “charitable” organization A New Missouri was a small victory for Missouri workers who have been under constant attack since he took office.

His resignation speech at a hastily arranged press conference on May 29 was full of the usual “I’m the victim here” vitriol one would expect and the same deceptive dressing he used throughout his 17-month term to cloak the real harm he has done to workers.

See related story: Workers, worker-friendly lawmakers react to the resignation of Gov. Eric Greitens

Greitens set the tone for anti-worker legislation in the Missouri Legislature, letting it be known that any bill that boosted businesses, no matter how harmful to workers, would win his support.

In his resignation remarks, he said proudly that during his 17 months as governor his goal was “taking Missouri in a new and better direction.”

What exactly was that “new and better” direction? A slew of anti-union, anti-worker bills aimed and driving down wages, boosting corporate profits and silencing the voices of Missouri’s working families, including:

• “Right-to-work (for less),” the deceptively named anti-worker law designed to drive down wages, benefits and working conditions.

• A rollback on Missouri’s Prevailing Wage, banning workers on small projects of $75,000 or less earning the prevailing wage, simultaneously cutting paychecks and opening Missouri to a flood of cheap labor from non-union, out-of-state contractors, taking work from local contractors and workers.

• A ban on Project Labor Agreements that ensure fair pay and working conditions on public works projects.

• Killing St. Louis’ minimum wage law after it had already implemented, cruelly taking money away from 35,000 already underpaid workers.

• Allowing employers to discriminate in employment and housing based on race, age, disability or sex by making it almost impossible for workers to file charges against employers for any of these reasons.

• Making public employees “at will,” allowing them to be fired for any reason, including their supervisor’s whim.

• Passing Paycheck Deception for public-sector employees effectively crippling their unions’ by forcing workers to “opt-in” annually to having their union dues or other fees withheld from their paychecks in a backdoor approach to “right-to-work” –– encouraging workers to “opt out” of paying their fair share for the union representation they receive and that the union must provide under federal law.

• Taxes cuts for corporations and the rich while workers get crumbs. Corporate taxes will be cut from 6.25 percent to four percent. Missouri’s top individual income tax rate will drop from six percent to 5.1 percent

In addition, a proposal on the November ballot asks voters to raise the gas tax 10 cents from the current 17 cents – a 59 percent increase that will directly impact working families. workers hardest. Another round of tax cuts is expected when the Legislature resumes this fall. Guess who will be winners and losers, again?

“Overall Missourians will pay more for utilities, earn less and have harsher lives thanks to the laws passed this session,” laments columnist Glenn Koenen.

Greitens’ “new and better direction” has been nothing but a race to the bottom for workers.

PROP A (RTW)

Greitens made passage of “right-to-work” (RTW) the cornerstone of his 2016 campaign. Passing it was the first order of business last year for the corporate-owned lawmakers who hold the majority of seats in the Missouri Legislature. Greitens – whose known campaign contributors included anti-union, anti-worker billionaire David Humphreys, CEO of Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products – gleefully signed the legislation into law.

We Are Missouri, a coalition of workers’ groups collected some 310,000 signatures to halt implementation of the anti-worker law and put it on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide.

That measure is Proposition A.  A majority ‘NO’ vote on Prop A will stop RTW in its tracks.

One of Greitens’ last acts as governor was signing legislation to move the vote on Prop A from November general election to the Aug. 7 primary ballot, when traditionally fewer voters turn out at the polls.

BAN ON PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENTS

Prop A (RTW) wasn’t the end of Greitens’ attack on working people. It was just the beginning.

Last year, in June 2017, with union-hating Wisconsin Governor

Scott Walker at his side, Greitens signed a bill banning local governments from entering into Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).

The so-called “Fairness in Public Construction Act” – another blatant attack on unions, made all the more obvious by Walker’s presence at the signing – banned PLAs, which require contractors to pay union wages to all workers – union and non-union alike – and abide by collective bargaining agreements for public works projects.

Under the law, Missouri’s cities and counties will lose state funding or tax credits for two years if they require a PLA.

WAGES KILLED

The legislature also passed a bill last year rolling back the City of St. Louis’s minimum wage hike, cutting by 23 percent the minimum wage paid to 35,000 low-paid St. Louis workers and preventing a similar planned increase from taking effect in Kansas City.

The unique cruelty of the bill garnered national attention. Greitens could have vetoed the measure, but instead took the cowardly step of allowing it to become law without his signature.

“Signing it would have shown the fact that he is heartless and that he really doesn’t care about the working poor,” state Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D–St. Louis) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

DISCRIMINATION BOOSTED

Greitens also signed a measure making it more difficult to prove workplace and housing discrimination.

Senate Bill 43 (SB 43) gutted the Missouri Human Rights Statute, which protects employees who have been discriminated against in the workplace based on their age, ancestry, color, disability, sex, religion, race or nation of origin by requiring workers who claim discrimination in wrongful termination lawsuits to prove that bias was the explicit reason they were fired.

The law prompted the NAACP to issue a travel advisory for African-Americans in Missouri

Missouri officials were warned the change could jeopardize the state’s participation in the federal Fair Housing Assistance Program, but Greitens signed it anyway.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development penalized Missouri this year by withholding $600,000 in housing funds.

PUBLIC-SECTOR WORKERS DECIMATED

Greitens set the tone for anti-worker legislation in the Missouri Legislature, letting it be known that any bill that boosted businesses, no matter how harmful to workers, would win his support.

The Missouri Legislature continued to advance his anti-worker agenda this year. Taking particular aim at public-sector workers, the legislature:

• Forced through a paycheck deception measure requiring public-sector workers – other than fire fighters, police and other first-responders –  to “opt-in” annually to have union dues or other fees withheld from their paychecks;

• Passed a requirement for public-sector unions to hold recertification elections every three years:

• And, just to keep state workers in their place, passed a separate bill making them “at will” employees, who can be fired at any time for any reason – or no reason at all.

PREVAILING WAGE RESTRICTED

The legislature also approved legislation changing the state’s prevailing wage law so it will apply only to projects costing more than $75,000, a change that will hurt out state’s small contractors and workers.

Missouri’s current law requires construction workers to be paid state-set minimum wages on taxpayer-funded projects, county by county, based on voluntary annual wage reports submitted by contractors. The law requires all workers, union or nonunion, to be paid the same wages on public works projects, including roads, bridges, schools and other public buildings. Where unions are strong, the prevailing wage has usually reflected the union wage, benefits and working conditions negotiated in union contracts.

Greitens signed the Paycheck Deception and merit bills before leaving office, leaving the Prevailing Wage measure for Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, who was sworn-in as governor last Friday.

THE BATTLE AHEAD

As Greitens wrapped up his resignation speech last week, talking about the damage that had been done to him and his supporters, the former Navy SEAL fell back on his military-speak machismo: “The time has come,” he said, “to tend to those who have been wounded, and to care for those who need us most. So, for the moment, let us walk off the battlefield with our heads held high.”

Even in his departure, the disgraced governor failed to acknowledge the damage he’d done.

The truly wounded are Missouri workers who will suffer the injuries inflicted by this administration for years to come.

In truth, Greitens’ resignation has changed little; corporate-owned lawmakers still make up the majority of the Missouri Legislature.

The battle to restore workers’ rights and sound state economic policy will be long. It will start by voting “NO” on Prop A in the primary election August 7.

But it must be followed by restoring reason and balance to the Missouri Legislature in this November’s general election.

Workers will have the chance to do that on November 6.

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