By TIM ROWDEN
Teamsters Local 682 in St. Louis hosted a recent campaign rally for U.S. Congressional candidate Bill Otto and U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander. Both candidates promised to represent Missouri’s working families in Washington and both asked for help, urging union members to knock on doors and make phone calls on their behalf.
Otto (D-Maryland Heights), a retired air traffic controller and U.S. Navy veteran, has served as a state representative and Labor Caucus chair, representing parts of St. Charles and St. Louis counties in District 70, since 2012. He is fighting to unseat Republican incumbent Ann Wagner in the 2nd District.
Kander, Missouri’s Democratic Secretary of State, is a former U.S. Army captain who served in Afghanistan. He is in a tight race to unseat incumbent Republican Senator Roy Blunt.
Touching on familiar theme of the need to fight against corporate special interest groups and bad trade deals that hurt Missouri’s working families, Kander used the rally to criticize Blunt for his lack of leadership in both in Congress and at home in Missouri.
Kander noted that Blunt, as the senior elected official in the Republican Party in Missouri, did nothing to dissuade Republicans in the GOP-controlled Missouri Legislature from trying to ram through so-called right-to-work legislation last year. That’s a far cry from representing Missouri’s working families, Kander said.
“Silence is not support,” Kander said. “That is hurting workers in Missouri.
“I’ve been to every county in this state in the past 10 months and nobody has walked up to me and told me that they are just desperately in need of lower wages and fewer rights in the workplace. It hasn’t happened yet.”
Kander noted that while he and Otto were speaking to union members last week, Blunt was at a super PAC fundraiser, collecting money from anonymous wealthy donors to continue pushing bad trade deals and corporate tax loopholes for companies that take Missouri jobs overseas.
That’s who Blunt is listening to in this election, Kander said, and who he represents in Washington.
“He never saw a trade deal that he didn't fall in love with,” Kander said. “He never misses a chance to send Missouri jobs overseas. And, on top of that, giving company’s tax breaks for sending jobs overseas. We ought to be doing the opposite of that. We ought to be keeping jobs in Missouri and you shouldn’t get a tax break when you send jobs overseas.”
As if on cue, even as Kander and Otto were speaking at the Teamsters’ hall, an advocacy group created to help Republican senators who are seen as vulnerable in the November election announced a $1 million, 10-day television ad campaign in support of Blunt. The group “One Nation” is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit — commonly called a “dark money” group because its donors don’t have to be disclosed — and is affiliated with GOP strategist Karl Rove and his American Crossroads super PAC.
SENSE OF MISSION
Kander told a story about his first days in Afghanistan and how the military brings together diverse people who put aside their differences to complete their mission. That’s what should be happening in Washington, Kander said. Instead, he said, Congress has taken a seven-week recess without reauthorizing funding to fight ISIS, without addressing funding to combat the Zika virus and without holding hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
Blunt lead the negotiations on Zika funding, Kander said, but wasn’t there for critical vote because he was at a fundraiser.
Blunt said he hadn’t met personally with Garland because he didn’t have time.
“Here in Missouri, if people don’t do their work and then they leave, they get fired,” Kander said to growing applause. “If Senator Blunt isn’t going to do his job then he should be fired!”
You can volunteer or contribute to Kander’s campaign at jasonkander.com.
Otto paid tribute to the Teamsters retirees, whose pensions risked being cut in half early this year before mobilization on the part of the Teamsters and a decision by the U.S. Treasury Department spared them. The Treasury Department in May rejected a proposal by the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund (CSPF) to cut pension benefits for hundreds of thousands of retired workers. If implemented, the cuts would have slashed benefits for retired truck drivers and other workers in half. A final fix could come via passage of the Pension Accountability Act, which addresses concerns with Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, or the Keep Our Pension Promises Act, which Otto support, and which would protect workers and retirees from cuts to their earned retirement benefits.
WAGNER OUT OF TOUCH
Otto criticized Wagner as out of touch to the retirees’ plight and to the needs of working families.
“Ann Wagner has voted to bar the Labor Relations Board from issuing decisions at all,” Otto said. “Ann Wagner has voted to allow your employer to cut or stop overtime. Ann Wagner has voted to prohibit prevailing wage at the federal level, and… she voted against requiring contractors, government contractors to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. That’s what we’re facing now. It’s time to get her out and get somebody in that believes in what you believe in.”
Rather than bailing out Wall St., Otto said, it’s time to put workers and retirees first.
“These guys earned their retirement, they deserve it from the day they collect it until they pass on. If we bail out company’s let’s bail out our workers,” Otto said to raucous applause.
“I spent four years in the State Legislature,” Otto said. “I was Labor Caucus Chair. I’m proud that we stopped RTW on the floor of the Missouri House. The Missouri Senate stood up and they sent the paycheck deception people packing. I'm proud to say for four years prevailing wage never took a hit on my watch.”
‘THERE TO FIGHT FOR YOU’
An air traffic controller for 31 years, Otto said “I know what it’s like to get up early, come home late and do and do a hard job and still at the end of the month have more end of the month than money. We need people in Washington DC to understand that. For the AFGE guys and folks that have worked a government job, there’s nobody that understands your plight more than I do.”
Otto said it’s time to send someone to Washington who understands that Social Security and Medicare are there to protect our seniors.
“It’s time to put working people ahead of special interests,” Otto said. “Folks you send me to D.C., I’ll be there to fight for your job. I’ll be there to fight for your family, and I promise I’ll be there to fight for you!”
You can volunteer or contribute to Otto’s campaign at billotto.org.