Kansas City—Gov. Jay Nixon highlighted the Missouri AFL-CIO convention with a rousing speech pledging his respect and loyalty to unions for helping working families join the middle class.
In addition to recounting his aggressive efforts to bring more jobs to Missouri, he reported that union membership in Missouri had grown by 41,000 members during his first term.
“I stood before you four years ago and said we needed more organized workers in Missouri. …That’s the second largest increase in the nation of any state over that time. With our trained, organized work force, we are turning this economy around,” Nixon said.
Gov. Nixon was the brightest star in a galaxy of major
Democratic state officials and one Republican congresswoman to address the convention.
The convention is held every election year to endorse candidates, adopt resolutions defining public policy priorities, and give union leaders a report on political developments throughout the state. This year, they learned that recent polls show President Obama trailing George Romney in Missouri, but holding a slight lead nation wide.
Others speakers included Atty. Gen. Chris Koster and GOP Congresswoman JoAnn Emerson (see stories on page 4); State Rep.Jason Kander, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State; State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, who is seeking re-election; Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, and Ann McCaskill, filling in for her sister Claire, who had to return to Washington for official business.
Zweifel told delegates that despite the national recession, he had stabilized the state’s $4 billion portfolio of stocks and bonds, and removed Wal-Mart and other anti-union companies from the portfolio. He also had persuaded the state’s Housing Commission to adopt the prevailing wage for all construction projects.
Zweifel said his Republican opponent was for right-to-work (for less) and opposed raising the state’s minimum wage or enforcing the prevailing wage.
Kander, a former special forces commander in Afghanistan, said his Republican opponent wants to eliminate absentee voting and adopt a voter identification law like that in other states that makes it more difficult for the elderly, minorities and students to vote.
Cleaver, an ordained Methodist minister, gave a lively speech that had delegates laughing and shouting their approval of his heated remarks about the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party.
“The only thing standing between the United States and a South American Banana Republic is unions,” he said, in pointing out that the top one percent of wealthiest Americans now have more than 20 percent of the wealth and assets of the entire country.
The wealth that has gone to rich Americans in the last 30 years because of stagnant wages of working families and low taxes on the wealthy has caused the decline of the middle class, Cleaver said. “And this nation cannot exist without a middle class.”
Gov. Nixon said Missouri’s unemployment rate had dropped more than in all but three other states and had been below the national average for 36 straight months.
In a message that promised thousands of new jobs in the state, he said, Missouri is on the verge of being chosen as the center of a new power industry created by modular nuclear reactors. Organized labor, working with business leaders and state government officials has been working on the project for months. “We’re very close to getting it,” Nixon said.
Nixon, who prides himself for being able to work across the aisle with Republicans, nevertheless took a few slaps at the Republican opposition.
“The other side of this deal wants to turn Missouri into one of those states that will attack workers. My opponent is running around the state doing just that.
“But here in Missouri we stand up for working families. We’ve cracked down on misclassification—9,000 cases,” he said referring to the practice of nonunion construction contractors and other employers of avoiding taxes by classifying employees as “independent contactors.”
During previous GOP administrations, the illegal practice was widespread but essentially ignored by state officials.
The state has recovered nearly $3 million from prevailing wage violations during his first term, Nixon said. Previous Republican governors ignored enforcement of the prevailing wage law.
He reminded his audience of more than 200 union leaders that he had let it be known early that he would veto any right-to-work (for less) bill that came to his desk. His opposition is widely credited for helping Democrats in the state legislature defeat the proposal even though they are a minority.
The governor said he would continue to promote more organizing of union workers, to rebuild the state’s roads, bridges and infrastructure and “to make sure everyone in Missouri that wants a job has a job.”