By TIM ROWDEN
Three worker-friendly candidates – an active union member, a former state representative, and a former union president and business manager – are vying to unseat turncoat Democrat Courtney Curtis (D-Ferguson) for Missouri’s 73rd District House seat.
The Missouri AFL-CIO is “open” on the race, meaning there is more than one qualified candidate.
Curtis has proven himself an enemy of working families – introducing right-to-work (RTW) legislation in 2015, aimed at the building trades, and providing the sole Democratic vote for paycheck deception and an attempt to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the anti-worker measure earlier this year.
Curtis also recently received a combined $50,000 in campaign donations from union-hating millionaire David Humphreys and his sister Sarah Atkins.
Humphreys has been bankrolling anti-union radio and television ads, as well as funding attack ads against Republicans who voted “NO” on RTW. He has contributed to several Republican candidates.
Curtis is facing primary election challenges from:
- Dan Wibracht, a third generation member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562;
- Eileen Grant McGeoghegan, a former representative for House District 77;
- and Lee Smith, former president and business manger of IBEW Local 2352.
Each of them cited Curtis’s RTW legislation in explaining their reasons for running.
“Courtney Curtis’s antics in Jefferson City propelled me to step up,” Wibracht said. “I’ve been in Local 562 for 11 years, and I’ve been involved in local politics since I was an apprentice. When I found out that my representative, a man who I voted for, was the Democrat that supported RTW, that was infuriating.”
“Typically, in RTW states you see lower wages and incomes, lower rates of health insurance coverage, less investment in education, and higher workplace fatalities. RTW laws will only harm the economy of Missouri,” Wibracht said.
CURTIS LOST HIS WAY
“He lost his way,” McGeoghegan said of Curtis’s attack on the building trades and other unions. “I don’t understand why he has done that. He says they’re unfair to minorities. Doing what he’s doing is not going to bring about change. I have nothing bad to say about Courtney Curtis, but I think he’s wrong. There is definitely a better way of going about this. I don’t understand how he thinks this is going to help.”
Smith, who comes from Curtis’s hometown of Ferguson said he was frustrated to be fighting RTW again 38 years after Missouri voters defeated it on a statewide ballot.
“When I was a union representative, I had this same fight,” Smith said. “We fought against this RTW law in the state of Missouri. Now that I’m retirement age, the same law is brought back by a Democrat who I voted for and worked for the get into office.
“Not only that, but he voted for this ‘paycheck protection,’ which we all know is paycheck deception. He is just doing things that I don't think are conducive to enhancing the standards of living of people in Missouri.
“We’re going backward instead of forward and I just couldn’t stand that thought with my background and experience,” Smith said. “I don't’ think he has a background that he understands what the union and Organized Labor has done for the overall working people.”
Wibracht, of Hazelwood, is a father of four and comes from a union family. He is a third generation member of Plumbers and Pipefitters, having followed his grandfather and uncle into Local 562. His stepfather is a union carpenter. Another uncle is a member of Teamsters Local 688. Wibracht supports increasing funding for public schools, expanding Medicaid in Missouri and closing the gender wage gap.
“Currently our public schools are underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars, an average of $700 per child,” Wibracht said. “By properly funding our schools we can ensure that we are producing an intelligent workforce that businesses are looking to hire. Our children are the future, and we have to give them the best education possible.”
On expanding Medicaid – something the Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature has steadfastly refused to do, Wibracht said, “Missouri has thousands of people without insurance coverage because they can't afford it. By expanding Medicaid people will be able to receive the healthcare they need without shifting what would be uncompensated costs to the insured patients. Medicaid expansion will also create more jobs, as well as save hospitals from closing in rural and inner city areas.”
On wages, Wibracht said, “We need to close the gender wage gap; women deserve equal pay for equal work.”
RAISED IN A UNION HOUSEHOLD
“I was raised in a union household,” Wibracht said. “My mom and dad told us why we have a collective bargaining agreement. We have to fight for those wages. We have to fight for those benefits we have. And we earn every penny of it while we’re out in the field.”
Rather than pursuing union busting legislation like RTW, Wibracht said good contractors appreciate what unions do for them. In fact, he said, he received a campaign contribution from the Plumbing Industry Council.
Wibracht said Curtis’s personal vendetta against the building trades –– alleging those unions are not diverse enough and don’t do enough to be inclusive of minorities –– fails to acknowledge programs such as the Painters’ Advanced Skills Workforce Center (ASWC), the St. Louis Building Trades Councils Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, and the recently started St. Louis Entertainment and Event Industry Apprenticeship Program –– all of which are designed to create new opportunities for minorities and women and help unions become more diverse.
"Courtney blatantly lies saying only minorities have to serve as pre-apprentices,” Wibracht said. “I served a year as a pre-apprentice. I only got moved up because someone else dropped out or would have spent two years as a pre-apprentice. He’s trying to spread lies about Labor, trying to make us look worse than the public perception.”
Wibracht said Curtis also ignores the good unions do in the community through efforts such as Rebuilding Day, a partnership with Rebuilding Together–St. Louis, where union volunteers provide free home repairs for the low-income, elderly and disabled so they can continue to live independently in comfort and safety.
Rebuilding Together–St. Louis also renews neighborhoods by rebuilding community centers, playgrounds and other community projects.
Wibracht has participated in Rebuilding Day for the past 10 years. He says it’s important for union members to volunteer their skills and show they care about their communities.
“I have a skill set that not everybody has and it’s because of my union training,” Wibracht said. “That’s why it’s so important to me to protect what we have.”
EILEEN GRANT MCGEOGHEGAN
McGeoghegan, of St. Ann, served in the Missouri House of Representatives, representing District 77 (now District 72), from 2011 to 2013. She also served for six years on the St. Ann Board of Aldermen.
McGeoghegan also comes from a union family. Her father was a Teamster and she was a member of Teamsters Local 688 in her youth. Her husband, Leo, is a retired Carpenter who was paralyzed on the job 18 years ago.
“I’m 100 percent union,” McGeoghegan said. “They’re good for the economy. They’re good for the people. I come from a long line of union folks. If you don't’ have unions what do you have? You have Walmart. You have people that are struggling trying to make their way in the world. Unions are just the right way to go.
“There’s just such a difference and in the quality and workmanship of work, whether you're a clerk or a carpenter or a truck driver. You present yourself differently because you take pride in your work and pride in being a union member because you’re treated differently; you’re treated better than someone who is not in a union.”
McGeoghegan supports programs like BUD and reaching out to high schools to help students in their senior year who are looking to get into a trade after graduation.
“I’ve missed anything Courtney has done promote unity between the unions and the minorities. What he his doing is not helping the minority students.”
McGeoghegan also supports Teamsters Local 688 and had stopped shopping at Schnucks even before Local 688’s boycott of the stores began over CEO Todd Schnuck’s plan to fire 234 warehouse workers (204 Teamsters and 30 various management positions) and replace them with scabs.
“What they’re about to do is just horrendous,” McGeoghegan said. “It’s going to have an impact on people and the economy.”
McGeoghegan is a strong advocate for job creation, veterans and people with disabilities.
Her sister was born with PKU, a genetic birth defect that prevents her body from processing protein-rich foods. She works in a sheltered workshop.
McGeoghegan supports Medicaid expansion and has pushed for creation of a veterans’ drug court in St. Ann to help veterans who are dealing with chemical dependencies.
She also wants to see the state do more to keep and attract businesses in Missouri.
“Let’s stop companies from going to other state’s,” she said. “We need to incentivize companies to stay here with tax breaks.
“Creating more jobs pumps more money into the economy. That money is cyclical. When you put more money in the economy, people spend more they buy more because they have a decent wage.”
Smith, of Ferguson, has a long history in the Labor Movement. A charter member of IBEW 2352, he served as chief steward at Westinghouse Electric Corp., a member of the Local 2352 executive board, chairman of the executive board, vice president, president and business manager in the 1970s an 1980s.
He was on the front lines fighting the RTW ballot initiative in 1978.
For Curtis to sponsor RTW legislation, he said, was a slap in the face.
It’s not that Smith doesn't understand Curtis’s concerns. Lee supports efforts to address income inequality, increase minority participation, health care, education and seniors’ issues. But he says Curtis is off track.
“He has some of the same issues I have, but I think there are different ways of going about it. For example, working with schools to get people educated and prepared to join the labor force.
“Our workforce is growing every day with minorities and women and Hispanics. That’s the way it’s going,” Smith said.
Programs like BUD are helping bring those underrepresented groups into the building trades, Smith said, and that’s the message he’s taking out to the district.
“I’m trying to convince African Americans. Some of them believe that Curtis was right. I’m trying to convince them that what he did was wrong as far as working people were concerned.”
Smith was elected three times as delegate to The IBEW International Convention for St. Louis, State Labor Council, and to A. Phillip Randolph Institute (APRI). He is also a prior member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionist (CBTU).
On his campaign webpage, Smith said: “I’m looking to continue working for what’s right and fair for the people I’ll serve. As your neighbor, we have seen changes over the years and I intend to bring forth a new vision of this community.”
As a resident of Ferguson, Smith said, “It’s obvious that the current issues that plague our community have affected similar communities across America. The same problems we face in the 73rd District can be seen throughout our entire region…. I’m here to speak for the people of the district that we need to change the mistrust between citizens, city government, law enforcement, courts, and raise certain questions about where we go from here.
“I believe that with engagement and communication that the community can answer each of these questions by working together. The community ultimately makes the final decisions and laws are passed that affect our everyday lives and our children also.”