By TIM ROWDEN
As Missouri workers move closer to the deadline to turn in petition signatures to repeal so-called “right-to-work” by placing the issue on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide, Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of North America, visited a packed house at Laborers Local 42 July 26 to urge members on and give them a look at what’s going on in Washington, Missouri and Illinois, where workers, facing unrelenting attacks, continue to stand strong.
Missouri’s “right-to-work” law, passed by the legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens in February, is set to take effect Aug. 28, allowing freeloaders to enjoy all the benefits of union representation without paying one red cent to support the overhead necessary to run the union. The law has one goal: to cripple and destroy unions. But, We Are Missouri, the campaign to repeal the anti-worker law, has collected tens of thousands of signatures on the Citizens’ Referendum petition to halt implementation of the destructive law until voters voices can be heard.
“This is the Show Me state, and I know damn good and well we’re going to beat ‘right-to-work.’ You’re going to have another opportunity to show them, and show the rest of the country, that in Missouri you can take ‘right-to-work’ and you can shove it up your ass!” O’Sullivan said to raucous cheers from the standing room only crowd.
‘WE WILL TAKE YOU ON’ AND ‘WE WILL TAKE YOU OUT’
“We can never back up and we can never back down,” O’Sullivan said. “There is no retreat, and there sure as hell is no surrender. In the never-ending fight and battle for human rights, for civil rights, for worker rights and for union rights, brothers and sisters, I still subscribe to age-old adage of the Labor Movement, that an injury to one is an injury to all.
“We need to continue to raise our voices so that everybody in the State House in Missouri and everybody in Washington, D.C., knows that any sorry SOB that gets in our way, tries to take food off our table and tries to destroy our livelihood, that we will take you on and we will sure as hell take you out.
“If we stand together, if we fight together, we will change the destiny of our union, of our movement and of our country!”
COMING AFTER YOUR WAGES
O’Sullivan was joined by Laborers International Vice President and Midwest Regional Manager John Penn, Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis, Local 42 Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer Brandon Flinn and Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
“They want your wages,” Penn said. “They don’t want the architect that designed the building’s wages, the highway engineer’s wages. They don’t want the engineer that’s going to lay the building out’s wage. They don’t’ want the supplier’s wages. They want your wages.
“If you’re going to take a 30 percent cut, let’s cut everything 30 percent, we could live with that,” Penn said. “If my barber charges me 30 percent less, the restaurant is 30 percent less, my rent is 30 percent less, I can live with that. Why is it they’re coming after our wages and not everyone else’s? One simple word – union. It’s a dirty word, unions, because you have a voice and a say and we mobilize in elections. You’re only 25 percent, but we’re the scariest 25 percent in this country when you unite, and when we don’t unite we get the Rauners in Illinois, we get the Trumps in Washington, we get your governor here in Missouri.
“Union, what does it mean? It means we get together. We don’t’ turn our backs on our brothers and sisters.”
‘WE’RE STANDING OUR GROUND; WE CAN BEAT THIS’
Louis laid out the recent history of Missouri’s legislative battles, from the November 2016 election to this year’s passage of so-called “right-to-work” and the commitment of Missouri’s Labor leaders and rank-and-file members to fight back.
When the petition signatures are turned in to the Secretary of State’s office, Louis said, “We’re going to tell them, ‘Guess what, you’re not running over us. We’re standing our ground. Missouri is not going to be a ‘right-to-work’ state. You’re going to put it on the ballot in November 2018. And not only are you going to lose that, you’re going to lose a whole bunch of Republican seats, because we’re taking back what belongs to us!’
“We’re going to win this, folks. If we don’t stand together, we’re screwed. But if we stand together, we can beat this. And on Nov. 4 of 2018, we’re going to show them, not only is Missouri not a ‘right-to-work’ state, it never will be one.”
‘WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK’
The message coming out of Jefferson City is clear, Flinn said.
“Anti-worker politicians have sent us a very strong message about the future of Missouri workers, their vision of the future, our future, our families’ future,” Flinn said.
“We’ve got work to do to gather those signatures. If you haven’t had a chance yet to sign the petition, sign it. If you haven’t volunteered your time, you’re not doing your part. This affects everyone and our families moving forward and it’s our chance to fight back!”
The petition drive and the campaign that must follow over the next year to repeal “right-to-work” is a second chance, Flinn said.
“We were dealt a serious blow that knocked us on our butt,” Flinn said. “But we get a second chance to get up and show what we’re about in this state, and we’re not going to squander that chance.
“I know the character of the individuals in this organization, in this room, and we need all hands on deck to do what we need to do to repeal this thing. We have to stay energized over the next 16 months in order to do that. We have to grab all of the members who are not engaged and bring them on board. It’s a tremendous undertaking because we know they’re going to spend a lot of money to try to defeat us, but we know we’re up to the challenge. And I know we can do it.”
‘THIS IS VERY PERSONAL TO ME’
Galloway, the only Democrat to win statewide office in 2016, comes from a union family. Her great grandfather worked on the Gateway Arch as a member of Operating Engineers Local 513, and she has numerous uncles, cousins and other family members who are also members of Local 513.
“I hold a firm sense of where I came from,” Galloway said. “My family worked their way into the middle class with the support that they had from the union. This is very personal to me.
“There is no sense in trying to sugar-coat this, it has been a rough year for working people in the state of Missouri,” Galloway said. “The public officials in our state capitol did exactly what they said they were going to do. And they even did some things that they didn’t warn us about. And none of it is good news for working Missourians.
“They have told the people of Missouri ‘If we just reduce your wages paid to working people, we will reap economic benefits.’ Think about that ‘If you make less in your paycheck, you’re going to be better off.’ I don’t think so,” Galloway said.
“They have a super majority and a partner in the governor’s mansion, but we have one another and we have working families in this state. And, I don’t know about you, but I think we have the superior numbers.”