By TIM ROWDEN
The Missouri Legislature’s Republican leaders say passing a so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law will be a top priority under Republican Governor-elect Eric Greitens, who has promised to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate will have little trouble passing the bill with super majorities in both chambers. Even under a best-case scenario, pro-worker Democrats and Republicans can only hope to delay it.
States that have passed “right-to-work” have lower wages, fewer benefits and more dangerous workplaces. They also, on average, have seen smaller median income growth than Missouri.
“It’s a given that ‘right-to-work’ is coming down the pike here,” said Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors), a retired member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1.
“I’m going to continue to fight it as hard as I can for as long as I can,” said Walsh, who also serves as president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council. “I can tell you that’s not very long in this political climate.”
That’s because even a Senate filibuster can only last as long as the Republican leadership in the Senate chooses to allow it before moving to call the “previous question” (PQ), which ends floor debate and paves the way for a final vote.
And once the bill reaches the governor’s desk, the deed will be done.
RTW will just be the beginning, Walsh said. Close behind will be tort reform, attacks on prevailing wage, and paycheck deception.
“Those are givens,” Walsh said. “Anybody can assume that.”
The Labor Movement is under a full-on assault, and blame does not lie solely with the other side.
“The leadership (of the Labor Movement) has been preaching that we need to elect people who are worker-friendly and friendly to our issues and we didn’t do that,” Walsh said. “A lot of our members are Republican and they voted straight down the Republican ticket. Unfortunately, that’s going to hurt the Labor Movement, and ultimately themselves.”
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Newly elected Senator Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis), secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO and former House minority floor leader, said he was extremely disappointed and disheartened with the outcome of the election.
“For all of the work that we did, we came up short, and working people are going to suffer,” Hummel said. “I think polling will show that a lot of our members voted for these people. If they wanted RTW they’re going to get what they asked for. We’ve got to find a better way to message our members and, unfortunately, it’s going to be too late. We can’t stop the train from coming down the tracks and, unfortunately, families are going to suffer because of it.”
With RTW a given, Hummel said, the question is whether anti-worker Republicans will stop with RTW or go after full-on assault on workers by trying to pass paycheck deception and kill prevailing wage this session as well.
“The question is, are we going to hold back paycheck and prevailing wage? Are they going to just go after RTW this year or are they going to try to get it all done in one session? We will fight paycheck and prevailing wage but at the end of the day the voters put us in this position and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
MINIMIZING THE DAMAGE
Sen. Gary Romine (R-Farmington), a friend of working families who has voted against RTW and paycheck deception and regularly shown courage in his in standing up for working families said realistically the coming RTW battle is a fight not to stop it but the minimize the damage, something he’s begun working toward within his caucus.
“You’ve got to be a realist, the environment is such that it’s going to happen,” Romine said. “My job is going to be shed light on it and make sure we’re putting out best foot forward.
“As I explained to them (caucus), they need to understand that we have our trade unions, shop unions, service unions and public employee unions and one size does not fit all,” Romine said. “It’s all about education. No one thing that is going to fix all their concerns, if there are concerns. Some of these guys are strictly looking at the opportunity to have manufacturing coming in, and that’s a different approach than you would do with service unions or trade unions. The guys that have built what we have today, we certainly don’t want to tear up those relationships and put them at a disadvantage to providing the service that their trade offers.
“A lot of it depends on Gov. Greitens and his position,” Romine said. “The trades and the various positions need to be having conversations with him. We know that he wants right-to-work but we don’t’ know what the parameters are and what he thinks that looks like. We want to fully understand what the target is there and what it means to him at this point.”
Newly elected House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) expressed a willingness to work with Greitens to find common ground such as ethics reform.
“He has made a commitment to working on ethics reform and that’s something I think we can work on together as Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “I’d like to see that happen.”
With the passage of Amendment 2 re-establishing campaign contribution limits in Missouri, McCann Beatty said, “People want to see some changes with regard to ethics.”
On RTW, McCann Beatty said, “Clearly the numbers are against us.
“The folks that this issue is important to need to organize and engage immediately,” she said. “As I understand it, this is the first issue that will be addressed when we go into session, and I think our labor folks need to be there to voice their opinion. We’ve got a large labor constituency in a good number of districts and they need to get their voices heard.”
IMPACT ON WORKING FAMILIES
Rep. Michael Butler (D-St. Louis), the newly elected Democratic Caucus chair said “Republicans are very much motivated to pass ‘right-to-work’ as soon as possible. We may have a chance to stand in the Senate but the PQ being used so much there makes it difficult.”
There is also a chance to slow the progress of the bill in the House if worker-friendly Democrats and Republicans can effectively communicate the negative impact RTW will have on working families.
“We have a lot of labor friends in the Republican Party who are going to do a lot of work to stop ‘right-to-work’ in the House,” Butler said. “The only ray of hope that we have is maybe pulling on people’s heart strings of how important this is to a lot of families and let them know that passing ‘right-to-work’ is going to lower wages and the standards of living for thousands of families in Missouri. I’m hoping that the Republicans that are for ‘right-to-work,’ we may be able to change their minds.
“Families that are going to be affected by ‘right-to-work’ look so different from the corporate perspective,” Butler said. “Thousands of families are going to be greatly affected over time if we pass ‘right-to-work.’”
NOT GIVING UP THE FIGHT
That’s what state Rep. Bob Burns (D-Affton), a retired member of Teamsters Local 600, hopes to share with the Gov.-elect Greitens before the measure comes to a vote. Burns also hopes to speak personally with House Speaker Todd Richardson.
“I’m just going to ask him (the governor-elect) what he hopes to accomplish with RTW,” Burns said. “Because we have proof that in states that have passed it, wages are suppressed, they go down and they don’t get the quality of workmanship you get with trained union workers.
“I think it’s incumbent on the unions to all be there talking to their Republican representatives, talking to Todd Richardson,” Burns said. “Let’s face it, they have a veto-proof majority and it doesn’t look good. But it’s always darkest just before the dawn.”
And Burns said he’s not prepared to give up the fight.
“They’ll have to carry me out feet first before I stop fighting for Organized Labor,” he said.