By TIM ROWDEN
In the turmoil that has come to represent our state and national political climate, with near constant attacks on Labor and working families, it is sometimes hard to remember that we have friends and champions who are fighting for our civil and workers’ rights against what sometimes seem to be insurmountable odds every day.
Three of those champions – St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, NAACP-Missouri President Nimrod T. “Rod” Chapel, Jr., and State Representative Bob Burns (D-Affton) – were honored Saturday at the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council’s annual Leadership Awards Dinner at the Cedars at St. Raymond’s.
Missouri’s so-called “right-to-work (for less)” law, and the worker-backed effort to overturn it by collecting 310,567 signatures on a Citizens’ Referendum petition to place it on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide, was the primary focus of the evening, starting with the opening remarks of John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer of the Building Trades Council (see related story above), and continuing with the honorees.
MAYOR LYDA KREWSON
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson is the first woman in the City’s history to become its mayor.
As a 20-year veteran alderwoman from the 28th Ward, Krewson has been unafraid to take on the tough issues like a smoking ban, reducing the size of the Board of Aldermen, working to positively impact the state’s concealed carry law, supporting the city’s minimum wage increase – which state lawmakers later preempted –and placing limits on the “dark money” that’s flooding into, and distorting, municipal elections.
“It’s not easy for unions today,” Krewson said. “It’s not easy for unions especially in Missouri, where union workers have been under attack for many years. There have been so many pieces of legislation in this state in recent years that have zeroed in on Organized Labor, trying to weaken unions. ‘Right-to-work’ is at the top of that list. It’s a catchy slogan, but it’s disastrous for Missouri. What a huge accomplishment to turn in 310,000-plus signatures! And, hopefully, that effort in November of 2018 will reverse this hideous ‘right-to-work’ law.
“‘Right-to-work’ is the biggest fish in this fight for Organized Labor, but it’s only one,” Krewson said. “Paycheck Deception? Two. Effort to repeal Prevailing Wage? Three. All of these seek to weaken the power of unions. Please know that I stand with you for all of these fights. You can count on that today, tomorrow, next week and next year.”
NAACP’s ROD CHAPEL
NAACP-Missouri Chapter President Rod Chapel, Jr., a trial lawyer has defended the rights of consumers and the dignity of working people in court and administrative hearings throughout the state.
On the critical issue of “right-to-work (for less),” the NAACP has been fighting alongside Labor since before the bill was signed into law. When Republicans rushed the bill’s passage as their first order of business this year, Chapel stood alongside Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis to file an initiative petition for a citizens’ vote on the issue on the very same day that Gov. Greitens signed it into law.
Earlier this year, at legislative committee hearing testimony on Senate Bill 43 – a bill intentionally designed to make it easier for companies to discriminate against workers in housing and on the job and sponsored by a state representative whose own company was facing multiple discrimination charges – the committee’s Republican chairman cut-off Chapel’s microphone mid-sentence to prevent him from testifying.
Chapel responded by holding a press conference, and his comments garnered national attention.
Shamefully, and not unexpectedly, the legislature passed the bill and Gov. Greitens signed it into law. This despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) warning that the law does not comply with federal requirements, jeopardizing Missouri Human Rights Commission funding.
“Rod’s willingness to stand with the Labor Movement over principals of fairness for all, is indicative of a career fighting for everyone’s rights, regardless of race, color, religion or personal beliefs,” Stiffler said.
Chapel said his father, a union electrician who passed recently, was “a great man” who taught him responsibility and work ethic, the value of standing with your friends, and knowing who your friends are.
“I learned about work and its value,” Chapel said. “He had his own version of the BUD program. It started right in our house about 6 o’clock… I didn’t make it all the way through. I turned out to be a paper pusher. But before I started pushing those papers as a lawyer, I was actually able to turn shovels and pull wire.
“We are working people, Chapel said.” When you get right down to it, the idea of civil rights started because some folks didn’t have the value of the fruits of their labor. They were deprived of that. And we know as Americans that that’s not right. When we stand together in Labor, when we stand together in civil rights, we are standing together because there is one humanity and if you don’t work, you don’t eat. And we all want to eat.
“I want you to know that the NAACP will not stop, we will not rest until everyone is protected in and out of the workplace, in and out of any place you seek to live, in our schools, in places where we seek health care. And we’re honored to have good Americans with us every step of the way.”
REPRESENTATIVE BOB BURNS
A retired member of Teamsters Local 600 and champion of working families in the State Legislature, Rep. Bob Burns’ entire life has been devoted to representing, and fighting for, the rights of workers, Building Trades’ President and Local 268 Business Manager Mike Mahler said in his introduction.
“His first introduction to unions was as a car salesman at a dealership not respecting its employees,” Mahler said. “He not only helped organize the dealership, he led a successful 13-week strike. After a subsequent strike by the Machinists for similar reasons, and refusing to cross their picket lines, he left the sales job for a driver’s job that came with a Teamster’s membership. He never looked back. Today, he’s a proud retiree of Teamsters Local 600.”
Burns took his fight for workers to Missouri Legislature in 2012 and has been re-elected ever since.
When the so-called “right-to-work (for less)” law came up, Burns was a leading voice arguing that the misnamed law would hurt ALL workers; that it would ultimately drive down wages, make workplaces less safe, and hurt the state’s overall economy.
Before his election to the Missouri Legislature, Burns served the Affton Board of Education, St. Louis Community College board of trustees and Affton Board of Aldermen, and as co-chair of a number of citizens’ groups promoting growth in his community. He also served in the congressional offices of Congressman Richard Gephardt (D-MO) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
In recent years, he and his wife Dianne, have organized an effort with Teamsters Joint Council 13, the Missouri AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 to help at St. Louis Children’s Hospital to help parents provide gifts to their children who have to be in the hospital on Christmas.
“Bob Burns is a fighter for all workers,” Mahler said, “a humanitarian, a political leader who’s not afraid to speak truth to power, a man whose compassion is worn on his sleeve, and proudly so.”
STEALING THE SHOW
It was a good thing that Burns received his award last, because once he took the podium he stole the show.
Thanking his union brothers and sisters and leadership, fellow politicians and fellow worker-friendly legislators, including fellow Rep. Doug Beck (D-Affton) and Senators Scott Sifton (D-Affton) and Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors), among others. But he saved his greatest praise and thanks for the three women who he said have nurtured him – his mother, his wife of 50 years, Dianne, and his legislative assistant Shelly St. Clair.
He reflected on how Congressman Gephardt and his Political Director Joyce Aboussie taught him the ins and outs of running a political campaign and praised Senators Walsh and Sifton who convinced him to run for state representative as “great people that just showed by their example. You didn’t have to listen to their words, they showed you by their actions.
“Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Republican-led Missouri Legislature and Gov. Greitens, who claim to be looking out for Missouri workers, but their actions speak louder than their words.”
Reflecting on the 310,567 signatures turned in to put the so-called “right-to-work” on the November 2018 ballot, Burns said, “There’s an old term in the second world war and it’s appropriate here tonight. You know what the Republicans did and our governor did? They’ve awakened the sleeping giant and that’s Organized Labor. I would hate to have to run in opposition to anyone who can gather over 300,000 signatures. What a voting bloc that’s going to be along with all of our other friends in November of 2018. As Mr. T said ‘I pity the fools! I just pity them!’
“It’s worth the fight,” Burns said.
“Somebody said to me ‘Don’t you find it tough in Jefferson City?’ I said, no, picket lines are tough. In Jefferson City, you’re dealing with a bunch of people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” Burns said.
“They’ve got the votes and they’ve got the billionaires backing them. But you know the one thing they can’t beat is our spirit and our hard work, and as long as we stick together like we have, we will prevail.
“We need to make sure anyone who wants to get into a Labor organization has that path to get in,” he said, “because we are all equal in God’s eyes, and we deserve a chance and a right to make a decent living for our families.”