Missouri unions fight right-wing obstruction

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – “The sun is shining on organized labor today,” State Sen. Tim Green, told thousands of union members as they packed the State Capitol lawn here March 27 to demand an end to the attacks on workers’ rights in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Green then introduced Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a friend of organized labor who has repeatedly vetoed anti-worker legislation, – protecting Missouri families from the types of attacks inflicted upon union members and public workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana.

Nixon blasted the Republicans for claiming to care about the economy, but doing nothing to create jobs in the Show-Me-State.

However, in-spite of the obstructionism, Nixon said, Missouri has “spent 30 months in a row below the national average in unemployment.”

Nixon added, “We’re creating jobs across many different sectors.” He listed off the various trades benefiting from a reinvigorated Missouri economy – construction workers, auto workers, carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, laborers, etc.

According to Nixon, over $1.5 billion is being re-invested in the auto industry in St. Louis and Kansas City, and $2.8 billion in an oil pipeline spanning through Missouri from Illinois to Oklahoma, potentially generating thousands of union jobs.

Additionally, Nixon said, to loud chants and applause, “We’ve added 41,000 union members in the past three years. That’s the second largest increase in the U.S.”

State Treasurer, Clint Zweifel, standing just steps from a statue of Thomas Jefferson, told the assembled union members, “Their plan – child labor, rolling back minimum wage, making it harder to organize, and end prevailing wage…”

“Their plan – to lower the bar, to take everything away from us,” Zweifel, a Teamster, continued. “Our plan – economic fairness, stability, and opportunity. It’s the American dream.”

“They want to abolish organized labor in Missouri,” State Sen. Ryan McKenna said. “There is a method to their madness.”

“First, they want to reduce wages and eliminate prevailing wage. Second, they want to reduce your membership through so-called ‘Right-to-Work.’ Third, they want to eliminate your ability to participate in political action through pay-check deception,” McKenna said.

Prevailing wage laws set industry standards in wages and benefits on publicly funded construction projects. The prevailing wage is usually the average union wage for a specific job in a specific trade and geographic area.

So-called ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation would weaken unions by forcing them to represent people who do not pay dues, but benefit from a union-negotiated contract, wages, and benefits. In ‘Right-to-Work’ states, workers make on average about $5,333 less than their union counterparts.

Paycheck deception, as unions call it, would severely weaken public sector unions’ ability to collect dues and spend money on political campaigns.

State Rep. Jake Hummel, concluded the rally with a rousing speech.

Hummel, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1, said, “This is what trade unions look like. This is what the labor movement is all about.”

“We are sick of these attacks on working families. I’m sick of it. I’m tired of it,” he continued.

“Go back to your jobs and tell people what you saw. Tell them we have to stand up for what is right. Tell them to remember who is with us and who is against us. Tell them to remember in November.”

The rally was called by the Missouri Building and Construction Trades Council and was planned to coincide with the Missouri AFL-CIO annual Labor Legislative Conference. Prior to the rally, many participants lobbied their elected officials and urged them to not support anti-worker legislation.

Just last week, over 250 union members from the Missouri State Workers’ Union Local 6355, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union Local 1 marched to and rallied outside of the Capitol steps.

Organized labor here in the Show-Me-State hopes its recent visible show of force will send a clear message to the right-wing-controlled legislature: “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Photo: Tony Pecinovsky/PW


Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the bureau chief of the Missouri / Kansas Friends of the People's World. He serves as secretary-treasurer of the Greater St. Louis CWA City Council and secretary of St. Louis Jobs with Justice. He is also a Newspaper Guild delegate to the St. Louis Central Labor Council and a St. Louis Progressive Vote Coalition board member. He lives in South St. Louis, Missouri, and has five cats and a turtle.