By TIM ROWDEN
The Greater St. Louis Labor Council executive board and delegate body voted to oppose a pair of proposals to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
The first, Board Bill 71, is St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed’s bill to ask city voters to privatize the airport. That bill was set aside July 17 prior to the board beginning a two-month summer recess. However, Reed said he may seek a special board meeting to try to pass the privatization measure before the Aug. 25 deadline for qualifying for the Nov. 3 election ballot.
Reed’s bill is nearly identical to, and was filed in coordination with, an initiative petition submitted by a privatization political action committee primarily funded by Pelopidas, a lobbying firm run by Travis Brown, whose biggest client is Republican mega-donor Rex Sinquefield. The Labor Council Executive Board opposes that measure as well.
Both proposals are premised on the idea that long-term lease would provide the city with an upfront infusion of $1 billion – that could be used for a variety of city projects. More than $40 million of that $1 billion would go to the consulting firms that worked on the city’s previous consideration of Lambert privatization that was halted by Mayor Lyda Krewson in December.
‘IF ASKED TO SIT AT THE TABLE, WE WILL’
The Labor Council Executive Board voted to oppose the two measures on Monday, July 20, and Labor Council delegates affirmed the decision on July 21.
“We had a very lively discussion about it,” Council President Pat White said. “With there being unions on both sides of it, it was a very constructive conversation, but as a board we voted to oppose Board Bill 71 – the aldermanic bill – and the petition that they’ve submitted.
“We will be in conversation with the City and the folks involved in this, because I don’t think this is going to go away,” White said, noting that the Labor Council and St. Louis Building Trades Council have worked hard to get Labor protections included in any privatization proposal.
“If asked to sit at the table, we will,” White said.
MAJOR UNIONS IN OPPOSITION
The Labor Council opposition comes on the heels of several member unions and constituency groups coming out against the privatization effort.
Five major unions – Communications Workers of America Locals 6300 and 6355, the American Federation of Teachers Local 420, the American Postal Workers Union St. Louis Gateway District 8 and UNITE HERE Local 74 – joined with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) at an open-air press conference in Kiener Plaza July 13 announcing their opposition to the privatization efforts.
The unions and Labor organizations, together with Service Employees International Union Local 1, which has also announced its opposition to the privatization effort, represent more than 14,000 working people across St. Louis including nearly 550 at Lambert.
ALWAYS HURTS WORKERS
“Privatize is always a bad word in my vocabulary because it always hurts those workers that work at those particular places,” said Lew Moye, president emeritus of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists-St. Louis Chapter.
“It also hurts those who get services,” Moye said. “In Atlanta, Ga., they privatized the water division there and the water got contaminated. It was a 20-year lease, but they were able to get out of it because of that.
“In Chicago, they privatized parking, and now it’s $6.50 an hour to park and small businesses are complaining that people have stopped coming downtown because of the parking.
“When they change a not-for-profit to a profit operation, you can expect to have problems,” Moye said. “That’s why we’re out there so hard fighting against it. And having the St. Louis Labor Council behind that adds weight to that.”
LOWER WAGES, WORSE BENEFITS
Kevin McNatt, president of UNITE HERE Local 74, which represents nearly 450 working people at Lambert and approximately 3,500 workers across the region, says an airport privatization agreement that doesn’t include language protecting the men and women who actually work there, would lead to lower wages, worse benefits and hurt working people across the City.
“It’s good the Labor Council is doing this to make sure that they know the workers need to be taken care of,” McNatt said. “There’s language that can be put in there to protect our workers. We’ve given it to certain people involved in this. But, for whatever reason, they don’t seem to put it in there.”
UNIONS, ORGANIZATIONS SUPPORTING PRIVATIZATION
Unions and organizations that have come out in support of the privatization effort include the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, the St. Louis NAACP and the MoKAN Business and Educational Center, which assists minority contractors.