Opinion: Unions successfully bringing minorities into their ranks, fighting for fairness for all workers


(D-St. Louis)

Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) recently wrote, “Unions ignore long history of excluding minorities from jobs” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 13). His commentary, while skillfully written, is factually, and intentionally, incorrect.

I was troubled by the fact that the bulk of his anti-union, anti-worker screed was based on reports from the 1930’s, 1959, and “a century ago.” The only current reference to unions and their involvement with African-Americans was an AFL-CIO report in 2016 that clearly said the Labor Movement can, will, and has done better when it comes to inclusion. I credit the AFL-CIO for their candor and honesty, something Rep. Dogan should try to emulate.

Rep. Dogan should read the latest report on 2016 data from the U.S. Department of Labor:

“Among major race and ethnicity groups, black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2016 (13.0 percent) than workers who were white (10.5 percent), Asian (9.0 percent), or Hispanic (8.8 percent).”


Let’s review a few facts about St. Louis labor unions and their extensive minority support and inclusion efforts:

FACT: The so-called “right-to-work” law that Rep. Dogan praises and voted for (a law that will hurt not only African-Americans, but all workers by forcing lower wages, less safe workplaces, etc.), was created in 1936 as a moneymaking venture by a man who did it specifically to keep blacks out of unions. I suggest Rep. Dogan research Vance Muse and the Christian American Association to better understand what he is supporting.

FACT: The St. Louis Building Trades have for years worked diligently to recruit minorities and women, including attending high school career days and job fairs and sponsoring educational forums.

• In 2013, the St. Louis Building Trades Council and its member unions, along with the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, created the BUD program (Building Union Diversity), which has successfully graduated 87 percent of its 127 participants and placed 86 percent of them in union apprenticeship programs working with unionized businesses and contractors. The program is considered a national model.

• Painters District Council 58, in coordination with the Workers Education Society, created an Advanced Skills Workforce Center that to-date has graduated 80-plus African-Americans into union painting jobs with union wages and benefits.

• The Carpenters District Council’s Joint Apprenticeship Program has partnered with the Urban League’s Save Our Sons program to provide insight into careers and training in essential workplace skills for economically disadvantaged African-American men.

FACT: The Greater St. Louis Labor Council consistently reaches out to minority communities to recruit union members and build bridges of understanding and assistance.

FACT: Representatives of the labor community serve on numerous committees and various social justice and workers’ rights groups, including the Archdiocese’s Peace and Justice Commission and Missouri Jobs with Justice, which work actively to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

FACT: The Labor Movement has been key to the formation of the nationally recognized Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship program and bringing this program to St. Louis in a partnership with St. Louis Community College to provide education and entry-level front-line manufacturing training to minorities, women, prior offenders needing a second chance and others looking to build careers in the manufacturing sector.

FACT: The Labor Movement has worked hand-in-hand with the Missouri NAACP in support of the fight for a higher minimum wage (which Rep. Dogan voted against), opposition to Missouri’s discriminatory Senate Bill 43 (which makes it harder to prove workplace and housing discrimination) and working to prevent the ongoing voter suppression efforts of the Missouri legislature.

FACT: Unions helped found the Regional Union Construction Center, which focuses on helping minority- and women-owned construction companies develop business skills to grow and thrive. The Center provides advisory boards of construction law attorneys, construction accounting CPAs, bonding experts, and construction executives. Since its founding in 2007, 30 disadvantaged construction firms have taken advantage of this no-cost assistance. These companies are on track to collectively generate in excess of $40 million in revenue and $2 million profits in 2017.

FACT: Unions working with area contractors in the St. Louis Construction Cooperative (formerly PRIDE) have worked with the construction industry since the 1970s to promote Labor/management harmony on the job site and minority and women participation within the area’s construction unions.

FACT: Unions ensure that their contracts with companies have strong anti-discrimination language.


Rep. Dogan’s comments are misleading and false, part of a planned narrative to discredit unions ahead of next year’s public vote to defeat Missouri’s misleading “right-to-work (for less)” law, the sole intent of which is to weaken the Labor Movement’s ability to fight for workers’ rights to fair pay, safe work places, health care and a reasonable retirement, in order to enhance the bottom line of wealthy business owners

Rep. Dogan should be fighting for his minority constituents but instead is fighting against the very issues that will improve their lives. He praises “right-to-work,” votes against raising the minimum wage and decries the prevailing wage law that members of his own party established in 1931 to ensure ALL workers on a construction project are paid a fair wage instead of having to compete with low-wage out-of-state contractors.


Rep. Dogan’s comments are historically misrepresentative and filled with extremist, right-wing terminology.

He references the “free market” without recognizing the inequality of bargaining power the attractively named but inherently imbalanced market represents.

He references “union bosses” as though union leaders were appointed dictators rather than democratically elected representatives of their membership.


Rep. Dogan decries the disparity of financial contributions to minority candidates without referencing any facts (which would prove him wrong) or disclosing that he received $50,000 from David Humphreys, the CEO of Joplin-based TAMKO Building products, the very man who is spending millions of dollars to force “right-to-work” on Missouri workers, and whose donation to Rep. Dogan on Dec. 7, 2016, as well as contributions to numerous other legislators, directly preceded the Feb. 3, 2017 passage of “right-to-work” by the Missouri Legislature.

Humphreys’ sister, Sarah Atkins, also gave Rep. Dogan $25,000.


Rather than honestly speaking out for his African-American constituents, Rep. Dogan’s commentary bolsters the corporate special interests that are pushing “right-to-work” and other laws in Missouri that will negatively impact all workers, regardless of their race. He should learn his history.

Unions are, and have consistently been, at the forefront of fight for racial, economic and social justice for all workers and will continue to do so regardless of false attacks from corporate interests or lawmakers seeking to undo them.

(Joshua Peters is a Democratic state representative from North County’s 76th District. He served on the staff of U. S. Representative William Lacy Clay, Jr. for three years and was appointed by President Barack Obama as a Confidential Assistant to the Under Secretary of Education. He serves on the Board of Directors of the People’s Community Action Corporation and as the Greater St. Louis Labor Council’s Outreach Coordinator.)


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