‘Right-to-work’ backers turn to courts (again) trying to stop voter ballot initiative

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THIS IS HOW WE WIN: It was a packed house last week when IBEW Local 1 in St. Louis hosted the Missouri AFL-CIO’s signature gatherer training for volunteers interested in circulating petitions to place a Citizens’ Referendum on the ballot to overturn Missouri’s new “right-to-work” law. – Labor Tribune photo

Workers stand firm; Citizens’ Referendum petition training is under way across state

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

Jefferson City – In another desperate, cynical attempt to prevent voters from having a say on Missouri’s new “right-to-work” (RTW) law, supporters of the anti-union, anti-working family legislation have filed yet another lawsuit seeking to scuttle an attempt by working families to put the issue on the ballot.

In a suit filed April 7 in Cole County, attorneys paid for by the National Right To Work Foundation and representing three people from Liberty, allege that wording for the proposed ballot initiative, approved by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, is riddled with “embarrassing” grammatical errors and is therefore unfair.

“The government overreach specialists are at it again,” Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO said. “They have filed yet another lawsuit that is nothing more than a frivolous attempt to keep Missouri citizens from exercising their constitutional right to stop bad legislation.

SAME PLAYERS, DIFFERENT LAWSUIT

These are the same three people, also with backing from the National Right To Work Foundation, who filed suit to change the ballot language approved on a separate initiative petition seeking a Constitutional amendment that would permanently ban “right-to-work” in Missouri.

That case resulted in a negative and wholly biased ruling last month by Republican Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem who found that the wording of a summary for the proposed Constitutional ballot measure was not accurate and rewrote it to ask voters if they wanted to “force” employees to make payments to labor unions as a condition of employment.

CITIZENS’ REFERENDUM

This latest case challenges the ballot language set forth in the separate Citizens’ Referendum petition that would place “right-to-work” on the ballot.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft approved that language late last month and the Missouri AFL-CIO immediately leapt into action, launching training sessions for signature gatherer volunteers.

A recent training at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 hall drew a packed house of hundreds of union members ready to hit the streets and collect signatures.

The lawsuit seeks to gum up and delay that process by calling for the summary statement to be replaced.

‘PLAYING POLITICS’

Ashcroft, in a statement responding to the lawsuit, defended the petition, saying his office had provided voters with clear, concise and complete language. Ashcroft also says people are “playing politics” with voters’ right to weigh in on issues.

“I am saddened that some are playing politics with the right of the people to exercise their constitutional right, and I am confident the court will quickly and correctly let the will of the people decide this issue,” Ashcroft said.

The legal action represents another attempt to stymie working families, who want to give voters the chance to weigh in on the issue after it was pushed quickly through the GOP-controlled Legislature this year and signed into law by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

The new law, set to go into effect Aug. 28, would allow employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented. Greitens says the change will boost the state’s economy by attracting more businesses, a claim the facts show is not true.

Other states that have passed ‘RTW’ have lower wages, fewer benefits and more dangerous workplaces. They also, on average, have seen smaller median income growth than Missouri.

In fact, two of Missouri’s RTW neighbors – Kansas and Oklahoma, lost jobs last year while Missouri created more new jobs than all our RTW neigbors.

HOW THE REFERENDUM WORKS, AND WHY YOU’RE NEEDED

Missouri residents can call a referendum on a new law by collecting signatures totaling five percent of voters from two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts.

The required number of signatures are needed by Aug. 25. The Citizens’ Referendum would halt the Aug. 28 implementation of Missouri’s ‘RTW’ law and place the measure on hold until Missouri voters have a chance to decide the issue in a statewide vote in November 2018.

There are over 260,000 union members in Missouri, Ryan Burke, senior field representative with the AFL-CIO, who conducted the training at IBEW Local 1, said. “If you all just do your job, go back to your locals and your friends and family and collect your signatures, we can get there.”

If volunteers get enough signatures, the new law won’t take effect until Missourians get the chance to have their say in 2018.

The new lawsuit, if it moves forward, could further delay the time union members have to collect signatures to get the Citizens’ Referendum on the ballot.

Louis said he was hopeful the latest attempt to scuttle the effort would be rejected.

“They are trying to waste our time because they want to circumvent the people’s right to have a say on this and just do whatever they want,” Louis said. “We are proceeding with our signature gathering campaign and remain hopeful that the court will reject this latest obvious attempt to silence the people’s will.”

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