JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The legislative session here in the Show Me State is finally over. Considering the far-right Republican onslaught, a lot more damage could have been done.
In fact, despite their overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, Missouri Republicans failed to accomplish most of their far-right legislative agenda, while labor and its community allies are poised to win a major victory for early voting at the polls this November.
At the top of the legislative to-do list for far-right Republicans was passage of so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) and “paycheck protection.” Both measures, if passed, would have severely weakened organized labor’s ability to advocate on behalf of workers’ rights.
“The right wing of the Republican Party only care about the rich. They want to weaken unions and drive down wages and benefits for hard working Missourians,” state Rep. Clem Smith told the People’s World.
“Their whole legislative agenda revolves around this one central idea: Weaken unions and increase profits for big corporations.”
RTW guts union security clauses in private sector employment, basically allowing freeloaders to benefit from union-negotiated contracts, benefits and grievance procedures without paying union dues.
Wages are lower in RTW states, while workplace deaths and injuries are considerably higher. Currently, there are 24 RTW states; far-right Republicans want to make Missouri the 25th.
So-called “paycheck protection” forces public sector unions to sign up each member every year for dues deductions and makes the unions get special permission every time union monies are used for political purposes
Under current law union members can opt out of union dues deductions at any time. Pro-union forces see “paycheck protection” as deceptive and unnecessary, as well as racist and sexist.
“‘Paycheck protection’ assumes that our membership – which is mostly African American and women – are unable to make educated decisions on their own. It’s basically an attack on public sector jobs – jobs held predominantly by women and people of color,” Bradley Harmon, president of the Missouri State Workers’ Union (MSWU-CWA) Local 6355, said.
Even more damning was an attempt to pass these anti-worker bills into law as ballot initiatives, thereby bypassing Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s expected veto. Fortunately, the Republicans were unable to muster enough votes – despite their overwhelming majorities – to pass these laws or put them on the November ballot.
Unfortunately though, during the waning hours of the session the Republican-controlled legislature did pass a series of tax breaks designed, as state Rep. Smith said, “to bankrupt our state government.”
The tax breaks include: an exemption on fuels used at marinas, an exemption on transactions involving used manufactured homes, tax breaks for large commercial laundries, fast food restaurants and power companies. According to Gov. Nixon, these will cost Missouri between $260 million and $500 million a year.
Earlier in the year the legislature had already passed an income tax cut benefitting upper-income taxpayers that is estimated to cost the state an additional $600 million a year.
Additionally, the legislature also refused – again – to pass Medicaid expansion, thereby blocking access to health care for an estimated 300,000 low-income Missourians, and driving up health care premiums for the rest. Ironically most businesses, the Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Hospital Association – hardly radical groups – have urged passage of Medicaid expansion for years now
However, the tide may be turning here, as labor and its community allies collected well over 300,000 registered voters’ signatures to place on the November ballot an initiative to expand early voting to six weeks – including some weekends.
Considered a possible “game changer” by some, the initiative – if passed – could increase Democratic turnout by 2 or 3 percentage points and possibly turn Missouri “blue “in the upcoming 2016 presidential elections.
Lara Granich, executive director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, said, “This is about people having more time and more access to the fundamental right to vote.”
Expanding early voting is seen as especially important to the largely African American and working-class voters in Missouri’s main urban centers – St. Louis and Kansas City. Union membership there is also very high.
Increasing early voting to six weeks will have a dramatic impact on African American, women and union voters’ abilities to get to the polls, and, progressives here say, hopefully begin a slow but steady transition away from reaction and towards progress in Missouri.,
Photo: Missouri Jobs With Justice.