By TIM ROWDEN
The fight to repeal Missouri’s misleading and repressive “right-to-work (for less)” legislation took center stage at the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) St. Louis Chapter’s 40th Annual MLK Jr. Human Rights Awards Banquet.
St. Louis City License Collector Mavis Thompson spelled it out in her opening remarks:
“We are in a battle! We are fighting today to recover ground we won years ago, and now we continue to fight off threats on every front. Namely, threats against fair wages and repressive legislation in the misnomer of ‘right-to-work’ laws,” Thompson said. “From here on out, I will call it ‘right-to-work-for less!’”
Some 400 guests attended the banquet Jan. 15 at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 hall, where CBTU honored:
• Tory Russell, mission director of the International Black Freedom Alliance and a St Louis protest leader for racial and economic justice.
• Ashli Bolden, civic engagement director for Missouri Jobs with Justice.
• Halbert Sullivan, founder and director of Fathers’ Support Center.
Remarks were also made by Brenda Davis, shop steward for the SEIU Healthcare strikers at Christian Care Nursing Home and Cecil Roberts, international president of the United Mine Workers of America.
Other officials in attendance included City Comptroller Darlene Green, City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, St. Louis alderwomen Marlene Davis and Meagan Green, state representatives Cora Faith Walker and Karla May, St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, Ferguson Councilwoman Ella Jones, as well as Laborers Local 110 Business Manager Don Willey, and President Gary Elliott.
But it was Thompson who issued the clarion call to Missouri workers, particularly workers of color, in their fight to turn back the tidal wave of anti-worker legislation coming out of the Missouri Legislature.
ADVOCATE FOR EVERYDAY WORKERS
“CBTU is now, and always has been, a strong advocate of everyday workers, valuable employees who are fighting for respect and the right to have a voice on their jobs, the right to be paid a livable wage that will allow them to take care of their families without having to work two or three jobs,” Thompson said.
“When ‘right-to-work (for less)’ was signed, CBTU and all of you went to work. Through those efforts, workers submitted more than 310,000 signatures… more than three times the number needed… calling for a vote on the issue and forcing the law to be suspended until a public election.”
So-called “right-to-work” (RTW) attacks the freedom of working people to join together to negotiate a fair return on their work by banning union represented businesses from negotiating labor contracts that assure workers will either pay dues or a smaller “fair share” fee to cover the union’s costs of bargaining and representation. The idea is to financially starve unions – which under federal law must represent all workers in a union shop whether they are dues-paying members or not – thereby limiting the union’s ability to negotiate and represent workers.
“The ‘right-to-work (for less)’ will result in worse wages, fewer benefits and fewer protections for the people who make this country work,” Thompson said.
UNION MEMBERSHIP INCREASES WAGES
“The fact of the matter is that union membership increases wages. Union membership ensures fair and equitable treatment on the job. Union membership provides an ally for those who are being subjected to frivolous rules and mistreatment from employers who only care about their bottom line. Union membership ensures quality work,” Thompson said.
“Additionally, unions must continue to be an important tool in combatting racial, wage and gender inequality.
“I know because I, like so many of you were raised by grandparents and parents who built this country and were proud union members. We have lived the benefits of union membership.
“These are the reasons why we must prevail in defeating Proposition A. We must canvass every corner to ensure that voters will reject right-to-work (for less)!
‘WE MUST PREVAIL!’
“History is on our side,” Thompson said. “Missourians rejected a ballot proposal to implement a ‘right-to-work’ law in 1978 with 60 percent casting ‘no’ votes. Once again, in 2018, we must ensure that voters do the same.”
But defeating “right-to-work” won’t be enough, Thompson said. Workers and unions must be united in electing pro-worker, pro-union candidates to push back against the continuing attacks on workers.
“The Bible tells us that when we are under attack to put on the full armor of God,” Thompson said. “Brothers and sisters, this is the hour! This is the time! Put on the full armor of God and unite in the fight. We must prevail! We will prevail!”