Jefferson City – More than 4,000 building tradesmen from across Missouri, bolstered by members of industrial, service and retail trades, rallied at the state Capitol last week to protest the onslaught of anti-worker bills being considered by the Missouri legislature.
The weather was unusually warm as workers gathered in the sun beneath the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the lawn between the State Capitol Building and the Missouri Supreme Court building to make their voices heard and hear from Democratic legislators who are fighting the anti-worker measures on the floors of the state House and Senate.
Union leaders got some encouraging news from the Legislature in that bills to promote right-to-work (for less) and paycheck deception (a bill to prohibit automatic union dues withdrawal) have been put on the back burner and aren’t expected to pass.
A bill that would weaken the state’s prevailing wage is still being debated in the state Senate. There was some hope that it too might be tabled for the year.
“The sun is shining on organized labor today,” Sen. Tim Green, who is also president of the Missouri Building Trades Council, told the roaring and appreciative crowd. “Our message is simple: ‘Don’t destroy our living wage.’ ”
Green (D-St. Louis County) organized the rally with the help of the Columbia and Jefferson City Building Trades Council.
Building trade unions in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield supported the effort by each bringing hundreds of construction workers to the rally. They were joined there by other members of industrial, service and retail trades who were attending the Missouri AFL-CIO’s annual Joint Legislative Conference in Jefferson City.
Green said the purpose of the rally was to get the message out to elected officials and the citizens of Missouri that many Missouri working families are going to be harmed if the legislature passes the anti-worker measures.
Gov. Jay Nixon, who spoke at the rally, accused Republican lawmakers and their backers of attacking working families in Missouri.
“There are folks that want to make us into Wisconsin or Ohio or Indiana," Nixon said to a chorus of boos from the energized crowd. “They are not shy about it, and it doesn’t seem like you all are either.” Those states have passed laws recently meant to cripple unions. Indiana passed a right-to-work (for less) law earlier this year.
Nixon last month vetoed two anti-worker bills – one that would make it easier to discriminate against workers, and one that would make it harder for workers or their families to receive compensation for being exposed to toxic chemicals while at work.
Both Nixon and Green acknowledged support from Republicans in both houses of the legislature who have given them support in fighting the anti-worker bills.
Seventeen bills to repeal labor management laws that protect construction wage in Missouri are being considered this session including legislation that would suspend the prevailing wage law in tornado-ravaged Joplin and other parts of Missouri declared to be federal disaster areas.
Speaker after speaker pointed to tornado-ravaged Joplin as ground zero for Republican’s attack on the state’s prevailing wage.
“When the tornado destroyed most of Joplin last May, the opponents of Missouri’s working families saw an opportunity to take advantage of a terrible situation,” Attorney General Chris Koster said. “They introduced 11 bills in the General Assembly that would limit or repeal the prevailing wage law in our state…. Our opponents demand that we rebuild our city…with out-of-state labor, with workers making barely more than the minimum wage and with men having little training or health care. Let us be clear, that is no solution for Joplin, and it is no solution for Missouri.”
FRIENDS ACROSS THE AISLE
Sen. Victor Callahan (D-Independence), the Senate Democratic Floor Leader, recognized some Republican legislators, including Sen. Jim Lembke (R-St. Louis) for standing up against the anti-worker measures. “Not all Republicans are bad,” he said.
“We would not have the success we did if we did not have friends and advocates for your interests on the other side of the aisle,” Callahan said. “The people of my party have defended you vociferously, but we do have friends and allies who helped us in this fight because they understand it’s right and just.”
A THREE-PRONGED ATTACK
Sen. Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City), a member of Laborers Local 110, said the challenge against anti-worker, anti-union legislation is not limited to Missouri, nor is it arbitrary.
“Across the country there has been an attack on labor and the middle class,” McKenna said, adding that he sees the attack as a three-pronged assault:
1) Reduce wages by eliminating the prevailing wage law;
2) Reduce union membership by instituting right-to-work (for less);
3) Eliminate political involvement through paycheck deception.
“Those three things together will abolish organized labor in this country,” McKenna said. “There is a method to their madness.”
Sens. Green and Callahan will both leave the legislature at the end of this session due to term limits, McKenna said, and he will need help to continue to fight.
“Enough of this 40 percent turnout by your memberships at election time,” McKenna said. “I’m going to need help in the state Senate.”
REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER
Rep. Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis), a member of IBEW Local 1 said the fight against anti-union legislation is unending.
“I am here to tell you that our fight is a fight that will never end,” Hummel said. “Every single day in this capitol there are attacks on our way of life just to make it harder for us to get by, to make it harder to feed your families, to make it harder to send your kids to college.”
Earlier last month, Hummel said, a bill was heard on the floor of the House that would systematically dismantle the state’s prevailing wage law. Hummel was the only member allowed to speak on the bill before debate was shut down.
“It may have had something to do with the fact that I screamed from the top of my lungs for 15 minutes straight and let them know that we are sick of this attack on our laws that protect working families in this state and we’re not going to take it anymore,” Hummel said.
Demonstrating the multiplicity of the attack, Hummel noted that a recently passed House version of the state budget cut three inspectors from the Department of Labor. Fewer inspectors makes it easier for unscrupulous contractors and employers to cut costs by fostering unsafe work places, and paying low wages with no benefits by designating workers as “independent contractors” that allow employers not to pay income taxes, Social Security taxes, or workers’ and unemployment taxes.
“Brothers and sisters we are under attack every single day,” Hummel said. “I want you to go back to the job and tell the people on that job what you saw here today. Tell them that you saw trade unionists standing up for what is right. (Tell them) that come November we’re going to remember when we got to that ballot box, and remember those who fought with us and those who fought against us.”