JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The third big front in the right-wing Republican-business state-by-state war on workers, in Missouri, ended mostly with a whimper, not a bang, when the state legislature adjourned in May.
But in one respect, the GOP won big: They passed a congressional redistricting map that gives Republicans 6-2 control of the state delegation. It throws one of its three Democrats, Russ Carnahan of south St. Louis and its suburbs, into a GOP-dominated district, to make up for the fact that Missouri lost one U.S. House seat.
When it opened this year’s legislature, the GOP touted an agenda that it claimed would create thousands of jobs for the state. But their plans faltered and eventually died in the Missouri legislative session that ended May 13, the victim of political bickering between Republican leaders in the state’s House and Senate.
When Republican House Speaker Steven Tilley and Senate President Rob Mayer announced the Republican legislative agendas in January, they said their priority would be creating more jobs for Missouri. That didn’t happen.
The two biggest jobs bills in the legislature were to create a China trade hub at Lambert Airport in St. Louis, and to facilitate the construction of a new nuclear power plant near the existing nuclear plant in central Missouri. Both would have created thousands of jobs. Instead, Republicans spent most of their time in both chambers on other issues. The China hub and the nuclear power plant bills died in the final week.
Meanwhile, strong opposition from every union in Missouri, plus important help from a small group of Republican state senators, led to the defeat of a broad anti-union agenda promoted by strong Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature.
The major union victory was defeat of a phony so-called “right to work” bill by Senate President Rob Mayer. He tagged it SB1 and said it was his #1 priority.
But in the face of a lengthy filibuster by the senate’s eight Democrats, backed by another half dozen or so of the 26 Republicans, the bill died on the senate calendar.
The campaign got significant help from a coalition of community activists, faith leaders and unions in Jobs With Justice who orchestrated a grassroots campaign that contacted thousands of union members and encouraged them to talk to their state representatives and senators.
Other anti-union and anti-worker bills that died included: paycheck deception, which would have required voluntary written authorization for payroll deduction of union dues, and restricted use of union funds for member education; elimination of project labor agreements, the labor-management agreements that prevent strikes and require job disputes to be mediated without work stoppages; elimination of the state’s prevailing wage law, which is aimed at preventing low-wage outside contractors from underbidding local contractors on local and state construction projects; elimination of tenure for public school teachers and the expansion of private charter schools paid for by taxpayers; elimination of the cost-of-living provision in Missouri’s minimum wage law; and a measure letting employers escape liability for health and safety hazards such as overlooking unsafe working conditions and exposure to cancer-causing materials such as asbestos.
Mayer’s right to work bill was a lightning bolt that activated unions throughout the state, and drew attention from their international headquarters. Missouri AFL-CIO President Hugh McVey said union leaders and members made phone calls and personal visits to state representatives and senators, both Democrats and Republicans, all over Missouri. Their key message: Right to work laws in other states led to lower wages, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, and a lower standard of living for all working families.
“Those contacts were critical. They helped members of the House and Senate – Democrat and Republican – understand the implications of right to work, and we managed to bring a small but important number of Republicans over to our side.
“This issue is not going away and we believe we can bring more Republicans to a realistic understanding of this issue in the future. Democrats support us 100 percent. But we think we can continue to educate Republicans on the harmful effects of this phony right to work issue.”
Union leaders hope the cordial relationships developed with state lawmakers this year will lead to greater understanding of issues affecting working families in the future.
“In years past, we’ve ignored the Republicans,” said Herb Johnson, the state AFL-CIO’s lead lobbyist, who testified in both houses against the anti-union bills that were given hearings. “That was a mistake we won’t make again.”
Democratic State Sens. Tim Green and Ryan McKenna led the opposition to the bills in the Senate, along with Sen. Victor Callahan of Kansas City, the Democratic floor leader. They said another important element in defeating the anti-labor bills was the individual relationships their tiny group of Democrats in the senate developed with Republicans, who control the Senate, 26-8.
With a majority that large, Republicans can do pretty much what they want to do. But cordiality and respect built up over the years help Democrats sometimes get their way, in a body where partisanship plays a lesser role than in the state House.
Republican senators Tom Dempsey, the GOP floor leader, Eric Schmitt, John Lamping and Kevin Engler all demonstrated bipartisanship, Senate Democrats say.
In the House, another element came into play over the right to work bill. Despite a nearly 2-1 Republican majority there, right to work was stopped cold by no less a figure than state House Speaker Steve Tilley.
Tilley let it be known that he did not want a right to work bill passed because it might land on the state ballot in 2012. Some versions of the bill would have placed it in a referendum. That would bring out huge numbers of union voters and could help defeat him in a race he plans to run for lieutenant governor.
Union members who worked against the anti-union agenda were jubilant.
“It’s time for lawmakers to stop answering only to the corporate special interests and take action on the issues that really matter to Missouri voters – like creating good, family-supporting jobs and strengthening our economy,” said Beth Dysart, a cashier at Shop-N-Save supermarkets in Lemay and member of UFCW Local 655.
Local 655 was part of a coalition including Missouri Jobs with Justice, Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, the Service Employees, the Communications Workers, the Missouri State Workers’ Union, the Missouri affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The redistricting loss was accompanied by another GOP bill – like those elsewhere – requiring voters to have photo IDs. It is aimed at suppressing Democratic votes among the elderly, disabled and younger voters, many of whom lack IDs.