Union members pack hearing on Missouri RTW measure

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UNION MEMBERS TURNED OUT in force to testify against Rep. Eric Burlison's "right-to-work" (for less) bill. – We Are Missouri photo
UNION MEMBERS TURNED OUT in force to testify against Rep. Eric Burlison's "right-to-work" (for less) bill.
– We Are Missouri photo

Jefferson City – Hundreds of union members formed a standing room only crowd that spilled out into the Capitol hallway Feb. 6 waiting to comment before the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee on a bill that would bar payment of union dues as a condition of employment, and make Missouri the nation's 25th "right-to-work" (for less) state.

“The turnout was unbelievable,” Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Mike Louis said. “We had between 150 to 200 people show-up from international unions and locals. The room was filled with labor.”

House Bill 77, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) and co-sponsored by House Speaker Tim Jones, (R-Wildwood/Eureka) is designed to weaken unions financially and inject government into contract negotiations by forcing union members to support non-union freeloaders, allowing them to get the benefits of the union contract without paying their fair share of the cost. It would protect no one’s right to a job.

Burlison and his anti-union supporters are deceptively calling the measure “freedom to work.”

FREEDOM TO FREELOAD

Burlison calls the bill “freedom to work.”

In truth, it is freedom to freeload.

“These laws allow non-members to receive the benefits of a union without sharing in the cost,” Louis testified last week, noting that the decision to join or not join a union is already protected under federal law.

“Right-to-work does not guarantee any rights or any jobs,” Louis said. “In fact, by weakening unions and collective bargaining, it destroys the best job security protection that exists – a union contract.”

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon opposes a “right-to-work” (for less) law, but lawmakers could avoid his opposition because the legislation would be submitted to voters instead of the governor.

The House committee took no action on the bill last week.

‘WE’RE NOT WISCONSIN…. AND WE DON’T WANT TO BE LIKE THEM’

Testifying in opposition to the measure, Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, outlined for committee members the amount labor spends on workers’ pensions, health care and training and the investments that labor has made and continues to make in the state, including:

• $412 million in pension benefits to building trades members in 2012, funded by joint labor and management boards.

• $973 million in health benefits in 2012.

• $68.4 million in journeyman and apprenticeship training for the next generation of highly skilled workers, training costs taxpayers don’t have to pay.

• More than $575 million invested in 24 projects in St. Louis through the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT).

• $122 million invested through the AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust (BIT).

• Over $90 million invested through Union Labor Life Insurance Co. (ULLICO).

“We are partners with our contractors,” Aboussie said. “If Missouri became a ‘right-to-work’ state, you would be disrupting the ability of the contractor to enter into a union security clause with our unions. This is a very harmful piece of legislation.

“We’re not Wisconsin. We’re not Indiana. We’re not Michigan. And we don’t want to be like them. All these things that we talk about is what we give back and what we bring to the table. The ‘right-to-work’ proponents and their out-of-state counterparts from Michigan talked about nothing of charity work and giving back to the community. It was just a total separation.”

‘TRICK THE PUBLIC’

UFCW Local 655 President David Cook minced no words in his testimony before the committee.

“You are being totally disingenuous to the public,” Cook said, looking squarely at the Republican members who are supporting the bill.

“You’ve created a new tagline – Freedom to Work – in an outright effort to trick the public. Why don’t you have the guts to call it what it is – a freeloader bill, allowing some workers to sponge off their fellow workers by taking the benefits of their union-negotiated contract without helping to pay their fair share of those negotiating costs?

“The bill guarantees no one’s freedom to a job, and that’s what it implies. You’re supposed to be representing all the people. How can you sit there and be so disingenuous by not being truthful?” Cook asked.

SUPPORT FROM LEGISLATORS

Labor got support from Democratic legislators, including House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis), Rep. Michael Frame (D-Eureka), Rep. Karla May (D-St. Louis), Rep. Kevin McManus (D-Kansas City) and Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia).

Hummel, a member of IBEW Local 1, responded to Burlison’s claim that businesses seeking a new location often list as a priority the criteria that the state must be a “freedom to work” or “right-to-work,” by noting that businesses, such AB/InBev, Boeing and Express Scripts seemed undeterred by Missouri’s non-“right-to-work” (for less) status.

Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka, compared “right-to-work” (for less) to a homeowners’ association in which some homeowners can choose not to pay the road maintenance fee.

“Eventually the roads are going to be decimated. You’re going to have dirt roads,” Frame said. “That’s the point of the legislation, to decimate unions.”

May said there is a racial and gender gap in compensation for workers in “right-to-work” (for less) states vs. non-“right-to-work” states.

“There are statistics to prove it,” May said.

“I just don’t understand why they are so interested in decreasing the buying power of workers.”

MORE THREATS TO WORKERS

Burlison’s bill (HB77) isn’t the only threat to labor winding its way through the legislature.

On Tuesday, after Labor Tribune press time, two other “right-to-work” (for less) bills (SB76 and SB134) were heard before a Senate committee on Feb. 12, as were two bills on prevailing wage, one to modify prevailing wage determinations (SB68) and one to totally repeal prevailing wage (SB30).

Two more “right-to-work” (for less) bills (HB91 and HB95) were heard before a House committee on Feb. 13.

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