State legislative conference warns of nationwide assault on unions
Jefferson City – Union leaders were warned of a well-organized and well-financed nationwide assault on working families and the need to keep their members informed about how Republican lawmakers in Missouri and Congress are pursuing policies that are destroying America’s middle class.
A parade of speakers, including Gov. Jay Nixon and other labor-friendly state officials, spoke at the annual AFL-CIO Joint Legislative Conference last week.
Hugh McVey, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO told union members attending the conference that what is happening in Missouri is part of a larger effort by radical-right business interests to weaken unions and their ability to support labor-friendly candidates by depleting their resources in fighting back against anti-worker attacks.
“Workers are under attack all across this country,” McVey said. “And the saddest part is” Republicans are “doing nothing to address the real problems that face this country.”
The annual conference allows union leaders to get an up-to-the-minute briefing on issues at the state capitol and in Washington, including a review of Republican led legislative efforts in Missouri to push through right-to-work (for less) and paycheck deception, do away with prevailing wage and Project Labor Agreements, impose a voter photo ID law and weaken the state’s workers’ compensation law.
Nationally, the focus was on the presidential election, House and Senate races, and the looming threat of a federal right-to-work (for less) effort.
The conference was organized and attended by about 250 delegates from the Machinists, Steelworkers, UAW, UFCW, CWA and Service Employees.
After being briefed at the conference, the unions sent their delegates to the State Capitol to speak with their hometown state legislators.
The delegates joined members of the building trades at a huge Labor Solidarity Rally on the Capitol lawn. (See related story on Page 1.)
The importance of this year’s conference was highlighted by appearances by Nixon, Attorney General Chris Koster, Congressman Russ Carnahan, state Treasurer Clint Zweifel, Senator Tim Green and a political affairs expert for the Machinists Union in Washington, D.C., among others.
This isn’t Missouri’s first go around with right-to-work (for less) and other anti-union, anti-worker attacks.
Sen. Green noted that times have changed since 1978 when Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected a right-to-work (for less) law placed on the ballot by anti-union business interests.
He said union membership in Missouri is down from 32 percent of the workforce in 1978 to only about 8 percent today.
And Missouri Democrats are a minority in the state legislature.
Yet, Missouri has fared better than some other states in battling the current anti-union, anti-worker initiatives. Green attributed the success of the senate in stopping right-to-work (for less) and other anti-worker bills to working relationships he and other Democratic legislators have established with a minority of Republican lawmakers.
He also gave credit to the governor for vetoing some bills and letting it be known that he was prepared to veto others aimed at lowering wages and benefits for working families.
THE BATTLE IN OTHER STATES
Earlier this year, Indiana became the 23rd state, and the first state in more than a decade, to enact phony right-to-work (for less) legislation.
Rick De La Fuente, assistant political and legislative director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, warned that if the number of states adopting right-to-work for less reaches 26, proponents will likely bring it up at the federal level, citing national support for a federal right-to-work (for less) law.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Democrats and unions are hoping to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker after he championed a new law that severely restricted collective bargaining powers of public sector unions in that state.
“I think what we’ve learned,” De La Fuente said, “is that governorships and who controls those governorships matter…. Our equalizer to all the corporate money is there at the ballot box.”
It doesn’t matter what party you’re in, De La Fuente said, “If you’re a Middle Class worker, you are under attack. They have turned the sites of that gun and they’ve got you in the sites and they’re pulling the triggers.”
SUPPORTING THE MIDDLE CLASS
Zwiefel, the state Treasurer and a member of Teamsters Local 688, put the importance of fighting for unions and the rights of the Middle Class into perspective when he recalled growing up in a union family.
Zwiefel’s father and grandfather were both union construction workers.
“When I look around in the neighborhood that I grew up in, it was built on families that had opportunities because of the ability for them to join a union,” Zwiefel said.
“When you support the Middle Class, something happens. You have stronger schools. You have stronger communities. You have a sense of responsibility not just to yourself and your family but to each other, which is what the labor movement is really all about.”