Opinion: Missouri unions just had one the best legislative sessions we’ve had in years

(IBEW 1)
President, Missouri AFL-CIO

The Missouri Legislature is a dumpster fire. But Jefferson City is the only state government we have, and the decisions made there directly impact the lives of every union member in Missouri.

As president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, my top priority is making sure union members are represented in the halls of the Capitol. With an anti-Labor governor and anti-Labor super majorities in Jefferson City, the landscape is bleak.

But Missouri Labor is tough. And organized. And we have a few tricks up our sleeves.

I’m proud to report that despite a hostile environment, Missouri unions just had one of the best legislative sessions we have had in years. Here’s a quick rundown:

No “right-to-work.” No votes. No hearings. No nothing. Our crushing victory over Prop A in 2018, combined with our constant pressure have kept the issue off the table. We must always be vigilant. We need to elect pro-Labor legislators this summer and fall. But we are in a better position than anyone dared to think a few years ago.

Stalled attacks on public sector. Senator Bob Onder (term limited out) renewed his attack on public workers with his “paycheck deception” garbage. When he attacked, in a hearing, with an amendment on the floor, we were ready. And we beat him. Public Sector unions will be there next year, Senator Onder won’t.

Construction dollars in the budget. The budget approved by the Legislature includes $411 million for water and sewage infrastructure, plus $100 million extra for rural road repair, $75 million extra for bridges, and $250 million for broadband expansion. Federal infrastructure dollars are going to put Missourians to work, and this is all before the bipartisan infrastructure bill dollars hit.

American Rescue Plan dollars for schools. Nearly $2 billion in “Biden Bucks,” the money appropriated by Washington to combat the pandemic, was pushed down through the state and will be distributed to Missouri’s schools.

Raises for state workers. State employees deserve higher wages. We pushed for even more. But when the smoke cleared, the supplemental budget contained a 5.5 percent raise for all state employees, and enough money for departments to raise all wages to at least $15 an hour at their discretion. A step in the right direction.

Unemployment insurance cuts defeated. The Big Business lobby pushed to cut benefits to as little as eight weeks. Senator Doug Beck (D-Affton) and Labor refused to budge. We won this round, but this is going to continue to be a fight in the years ahead.

Initiative petition process attacks beaten back. The voice of the people should reign supreme. In Missouri, we the people make our voices heard by a direct vote on statewide issues. When out-of-touch politicians pass their “right-to-work” schemes, we the people vote to reject it. When corporate bosses refuse to raise the wage, we the people vote to raise it. It’s no surprise that big donors wanted to try to end this process and cut the people out of governing, but we held them off. And we’ll hold them off next year too.

Medicaid fully funded. Voters voted for it. Courts ordered it. This year we finally got it. Fully funded Medicaid expansion. Thousands more WORKING Missourians with health insurance. More healthcare jobs. More hospital construction. A win that was a long time coming.

Of course with an anti-labor Republican supermajority, it can’t all go well. Two frustrating bills need to be noted.

More public money to unaccountable charter schools. We aren’t thrilled with HB 1552, but the fight Labor put up kept it from being far, far worse. The bill ultimately avoided cuts to public schools, but does send new state money to charter schools that refuse to be accountable to a locally elected school board.

Attack on voting rights. The worst bill of the session was House Bill 1878. It contains an arbitrary and burdensome photo ID law, as well as other hurdles to voting rights. The two weeks of unexcused absentee voting is good (voting absentee currently requires an excuse) but it’s not enough to save this from being an awful bill.

The bottom line is that with the odds stacked against us, we had a better legislative session than almost anyone expected – better than we have had in years.

It didn’t just happen on its own. Our campaign work, our member education and our intensive lobbying efforts, all paid off. As a Movement, our work and our strategy made a difference. Seven months from now, the legislature will be back in session. It’s up to us to do the things – make calls, knock on doors, strengthen our unions – that will make next year just as successful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top