Anti-worker measure would drive down wages, benefit corporations
Jefferson City – The start to this year’s legislative session was an opportunity for Missouri’s elected officials to work together in the bipartisan manner they demonstrated in the recent Boeing deal to do what's right for Missouri by finding ways to create jobs.
Instead, right-wing extremists led by House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) decided to start the session off by pushing anti-worker right-to-work (for less) legislation.
Jones made passing anti-worker union-busting right-to-work (for less) a priority in his opening day speech (See related story on Page 3.)
Jones and his supporters say right-to-work gives workers a “choice” by prohibiting the collection of union fees from all employees by an employer. What they don’t say is that federal law already allows workers to opt out of paying union dues, requiring only that they pay a fee for collective bargaining done by the union that benefits them.
Just five days into the Legislature’s session, the first such measure – House Bill 1099 (HB1099), sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) – was debated last week before the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee.
The bill displays the new tactic of the far right to confuse and deceive Missouri voters: they are calling it the “Freedom to Work” Act instead of what people now know is right-to-work (for less). By any name, it’s still the same.
AN ISSUE FOR ALL WORKING FAMILIES
“This is not a union or an organized labor issue,” Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said. “This is an issue regarding the welfare of all working families in the state of Missouri.”
Louis, who testified against the measure at last week’s hearing, noted that in right-to-work states:
• Employees average $1,500 less per year.
• Employees are more likely to be uninsured and/or less likely to work for an employer that offers health insurance.
In addition, right-to-work states:
• Have higher poverty rates.
• Spend less on education, and
• Have a 36 percent higher rate of workplace deaths than non-right-to-work states.
A CORPORATE AGENDA
Louis pointed out that HB1099 – and every other right-to-work bill filed this session – is based on boilerplate language provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC bills itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public,” but has been characterized by the New York Times as a “stealth business lobbyist” and as a “bill laundry” for corporate policy ideas by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
ALEC is best known for producing model legislation for state governments that match the business interests of the firms that are members of the group.
In recent years, ALEC has promoted bills that would privatize state services, cut taxes, weaken unions (especially in the public sector) and soften or eliminate labor and environmental regulations.
“These representatives are working on the agenda of ALEC, not on the agenda of creating jobs and not on the agenda of making Missouri a better place for working families,” Louis said. “They need to get away from corporate greed and get back to representing their constituents.”
‘JOBS DO NOT GO TO THE CHEAPEST PLACES’
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who traveled to Jefferson City to testify against HB 1099, noted that when Boeing was considering moving its 777X commercial airliner production line to the state, the right-to-work issue did not come up.
“Jobs do not go to the cheapest places, they go to the best places,” Slay said.
“There are a lot of reasons why people make decisions about where they’re going to locate their business,” Slay said in an interview with the St. Louis Business Journal.
“There are far better reasons that influence their decisions (than right-to-work). Quality of education, quality of life, good environment for families and business to operate in terms of tax policy – those are things that are worthy of working on and all things I’m happy to continue to work on.”
The mayor added: "When Missouri middle-class families have less money to spend, small businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores, department stores, and the like, could suffer.
“The men and women of organized labor are not our enemies, they are our allies, as we saw very well in (the recent) Boeing effort.”
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley also testified against the measure.
"Right to work' means union-busting, that's exactly what it means," Dooley stressed. "Right to work doesn't mean a right to work; it means a right to deny fringe benefits and an opportunity to the middle class and working people of this country and this state.
“Republicans are determined to make right-to-work a priority,” Dooley Tweeted from the hearing. “I’m determined to defeat it.”
Rep. Michael Frame (D-Eureka), a member of the Workforce Development Committee, grilled Burlison and right-to-work (for less) proponents (some who came from out-of-state to testify), on their motivation
for seeking the measure, whether they thought the measure would drive down wages and whether the legislation was indeed being driven by ALEC. He was met with evasiveness.
Burlison, an ALEC member, quipped "I don't know who this ALEC person is."
“I think they looked shamefully dishonest,” Frame said. “They weren’t willing to answer a simple question, saying that they didn't’ know.”
The House committee is also considering two more right-to-work (for less) bills – HB1053 and HB143.
HB1053 would put the measure on the ballot.
WHAT’S DRIVING THE ISSUE? POLITICS
The early fight over right-to-work, many speculate, is really an appeal by Jones, who will be term-limited out at the end of this session, to potential donors for his likely 2016 bid for Missouri attorney general.
"This is a sad example of people introducing legislation to appease donors," Democratic consultant Mike Kelley said in an interview with the St. Louis Beacon.
Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, said politics – not policy – is driving the effort.
“There are wealthy funders of both Tim Jones and the Republican Party that are attempting to have a hand in Missouri politics and bring less skilled, less qualified workers to this state,” Soutier said
Whatever the motivation, Frame said he was disappointed that Jones decided to kick-off the session with such a divisive issue.
“I think it shows where his priorities lie in this legislative session,” Frame said. “It’s certainly not with the working families of Missouri.”
(Some information for this article from St. Louis Beacon/St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Business Journal.)