Jefferson City – With the strength of numbers, more than 3,000 union members and their allies from across Missouri turned out in Jefferson City March 26 for the Stand Up For Missouri’s Middle Class rally and lobbying day.
They included nurses and laborers, teachers and pipefitters, government employees and sheet metal workers, grocery clerks and iron workers, struggling fast food workers and union retirees –all turning out to make their voices heard.
Sponsored by the Missouri Building & Construction Trades Council, to encourage legislators to vote against proposed the anti-union, anti-middle class measures being considered this session, the rally and lobbying day sent a strong message: “We are many, and we will not be silenced.”
National AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department President Sean McGarvey keynoted the event, calling Missouri’s battle against right-to-work, paycheck deception, changes to prevailing wage and other anti-worker measures a microcosm of the debate taking place across the country.
“If Right-to-Work hasn’t worked in the states where it has been around for decades, how can it possibly work here?” McGarvey told the crowd. “We’ve got all the evidence we need that it doesn’t do us any good.”
More than 24 Democrats made appearances at the rally, and several addressed the crowd.
EVERYONE WILL LOSE
State Sen. Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors), a member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1 and president of the state Building and Construction Trades Council told the union crowd:
“We build this state, and we make it work every day. We must never stand alone in our fight for justice for the middle class. Their dangerous agenda is all about lowering your wages and silencing your voice. If we lose this, the whole middle class, everyone who works for al living in Missouri, will pay the price.”
GOVERNOR AT OUR SIDE
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who has stood with labor throughout his administration and vowed to veto any right-to-work legislation that makes it to his desk, said:
“Some lawmakers and the special interests who back them still seem think that the way to lift up our economy is to tear down working families. We defeated these attacks on working families in the past – and we’re going to stop them again.”
Missouri voters previously overwhelmingly defeated a right-to-work effort in 1978.
One option being considered this session is to ask voters to reconsider the question via a referendum, thus avoiding Gov. Nixon’s veto pen, but Nixon vowed to continue to fight.
“If they try to go around me,” he said. “I will stand right beside you as we fight back and win, just as we did back in 1978.”
TWO SETS OF LIVES
Attorney General Chris Koster, who intends to run for Governor in 2016, told a story he has often repeated about the Rulo Bridge, which connects Holt County, Mo. to Richardson County, Neb. The bridge was rebuilt by both states with workers meeting in the middle. Nebraska’s right-to-work status meant lower wages for Rulo workers.
“The Missouri workers on that project were making more than $31 an hour,” Koster said. “In Nebraska, where they are a right-to-work state, workers were making $8 an hour. That’s what tight-to-work looks like,” Koster said. “Two sets of workers doing the same work, but their lives are so different.”
‘THEY ARE WRONG’
State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, a former Teamster whose father and grandfather were union carpenters, talked about what it means to be in a union, and what certain Republican extremists have in mind for Missouri by weakening child labor laws, rolling back the minimum wage, making it more difficult for those who are hurt on the job, making it harder to organize, ending prevailing wage and establishing right-to-work.
“They want to tear down accomplishments the generation before us – inside and outside of this building – fought for. And they are wrong,” Zweifel said. “They are wrong because they miss an important point; it’s not about union vs. non-union. The middle class is the foundation of a strong economy.”
Rep. Anne Zerr (R-St. Charles), chair of the House Economic Development Committee, and a critic of her party leadership’s anti-union, anti-worker efforts told the crowd working with unions “was good business sense.”
‘THE CALVARY HAS ARRIVED’
Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander looked out at the awesome crowd and quipped, “I feel like the calvary has arrived.
“As we begin the second half of this legislative session, we need you now more than ever,” Kander said. “Those of us working here in Jeff City to protect workers’ rights cannot be successful without your help.
“You all being here today and making sure the people under this dome hear your voices and feel the strength of your solidarity is how we will fight back against those who seek to take our rights. The people in this building need to know that if they want to take your rights, if they want to lower your wages, they’re going to have to look you in the eye when they do it.”
House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis), a member of IBEW Local 1, told union members “We’re being attacked like never before. We are being threatened so that millionaires can make a few more dollars.”
Workers need to send lawmakers and their corporate backs a message, Hummel said.
“They need to know that you can’t kick us in the face and think that we’re going to take it. They need to know that we are sick of it, and we’re not going to take it anymore!
“We owe it to those members that came before us, the ones who fought and bled and died for the rights that we have in this state.
“Let them know in August and November, we will remember who stood with us and who stood against us.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes from the Stand Up for Missouri's Middle Class rally March 26, 2014 in Jefferson City.