‘Prop A defeat was only the first step in our fight’
By TIM ROWDEN
The historic defeat of “right-to-work” (Proposition A) by an overwhelming 67 to 33 percent vote was top of mind at the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council’s recent Leadership Awards dinner as the Council’s Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Stiffler led workers, union and political leaders in a toast:
“Here’s to almost one million Missouri voters who said NO to Prop A because they realized imposing the phony ‘right-to-work’ for less was wrong for Missouri,” Stiffler said.
“Let’s celebrate tonight,” Stiffler said. “But Monday, and until Nov. 6, we must roll up our sleeves.
“Prop A’s defeat was only the first step in our fight,” he said. “It was an important first step, but not the last. We have to take the enthusiasm, determination and energy from our Prop A fight into November. We have to protect our friends. We have to bring about enough change to restore balance to the political structures in our state capitols and Washington so compromise becomes the watchword. If we don’t, then I’m afraid the 1% will rule and the rest of us will have to be satisfied with the crumbs. We can’t let that happen.”
The annual awards dinner, which for years served as an occasion to honor leaders of Labor and management, has in recent years focused instead on political leaders who, through their offices and their actions, have championed the rights and interests of workers and working families. This year’s honorees included:
• State Auditor Nicole Galloway, Missouri’s independent taxpayer watchdog. A CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner, her audits have uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars in waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement, and have changed the way officials around the state do business on behalf of taxpayers.
• St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a longtime champion of union labor and working families in St. Louis County both as a member of the County Council representing the 6th District and as the county’s top elected official.
• St. Louis City License Collector Mavis Thompson, an outspoken voice for working people and the first African-American woman to serve the City of St. Louis in two different citywide elected offices, as the first female Circuit Clerk and the current License Collector.
Galloway comes from a union family. Her great grandfather worked on the Gateway Arch as a member of Operating Engineers Local 513, and she has numerous uncles, cousins and other family members who are also members of Local 513.
“This really means a lot to me personally to have your support and your friendship,” Galloway said. “When my Pop Truman was helping build the Arch so many years ago, to have his great granddaughter stand here and accept this from, basically, his peers, I just can’t even tell you how much it personally means to me.
“I am proud to be your state auditor and it’s my job to root out government waste and fraud, abuse and mismanagement.
“I often hear that people feel like the system is rigged against them, rigged to benefit special interests, dark money donors and the powerful,” she said. “It’s my job to hold them accountable for how they spend your money and how they make decisions on your behalf.
“I am your independent watchdog, and you deserve an independent watchdog, not a Jefferson City lapdog.
“While it is my job to hold government at all levels accountable, it is our job together to hold them accountable at the ballot box. And we did that, we showed them that we are not going to accept dark money donors trying to rig the system in their favor when Prop A went down in flames.
“But we need to continue to have our voices heard into November, we absolutely do. You have the power, not them. You have the power. And you utilize that power at the ballot box so you can have people that represent your interests and not the corporate interests. It’s so critically imperative.
“Everyone here works to earn an opportunity for themselves and for your families. We have to stand together, we have to fight. And I will be right there with you fighting in November.”
Stenger grew up in Affton, the youngest of four children. His father was a union telephone lineman with Southwestern Bell.
“As the son and the grandson and the great grandson, and in fact the great-great grandson of union members, there is no greater honor than this award,” Stenger said
“This has been an eventful summer for Organized Labor. The Prop A victory was historic. I congratulate the union members across the region and across the state who stood together to defeat the fraudulent ‘right-to-work.’ A lot of people in this room put their hearts and souls into this effort. And make no mistake about it, in voting overwhelmingly against ‘right-to-work’ in Missouri, voters sent a loud and clear message that they support the working men and women of this state.
“I was extraordinarily proud to fight beside you in that battle,” he said. “But the battle is not over. The gap between the richest Americans and working families is growing at an exponential rate. Currently the wealth of the richest one-tenth of one percent of Americans – not the 1%, but one-tenth of one-percent of the richest Americans – is equivalent to the wealth of 90 percent of the rest of America.
“Yet, the super affluent are not content. They continue to bring all their might to bear in the effort to strip workers of their rights and bargaining power,” Stenger said.
“In such an environment, the future of Organized Labor is key to the future of our region, the future of our state and of our nation. The issues that are important to Organized Labor are critical, in fact, to the survival of American democracy as a whole.
“I want to extend my thanks for the unwavering support that Organized Labor has given me, particularly in the recent Democratic primary,” Stenger said. “And I want you to know that you’ll always have my support as well.”
Born and raised in the City of St. Louis, Thompson still resides in her childhood home in the Jeff
Vander Lou neighborhood. Her grandfather, William Johnson, was a Pullman porter. Her grandmother, Mavis Johnson, and father were both members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Her mother, a cook at St. Louis Public Schools, was a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
“We won defeating Prop A, because we are the Union,” Thompson said enthusiastically, referencing the familiar rallying cry, “the mighty, mighty Union! That’s why we won!
“I am the last person standing in my immediate family,” she said. “The responsibility is on me now. Not only do I stand on their shoulders, I promise to keep the record going, the longstanding record of service.
“In my family, we come from a long record of not only supporting Organized Labor but also working in the churches, working in our African American communities.
“Union brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to forget that over 88 percent of African Americans statewide and 93 percent of black wards in St. Louis City voted against Proposition A,” she said.
Thompson praised the Building Trades’ Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, which is helping to bring more minorities and women into the building trades and encouraged other unions to emulate the Building Trades’ diversity efforts, both in their apprenticeships and their leadership.
“We can do that,” she said. “We can do better because we are the Union, the might, mighty Union!”