Missouri workers win with wage bill and right-to-work veto

ST. LOUIS – “It is impossible to survive on the current minimum wage,” says Latasha Chapple, a 33-year-old mother of three who works at Wendy’s. Chapple is a local leader in the nationwide campaign for “$15 and a union.” 

She, like thousands of other low-wage workers across this city, may soon find that their demand for “$15 and a union” is closer to becoming a reality than originally thought.

For, if Chapple and her supporters in the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen get their way, what happened on Thursday, June 3, 2015, could signal a new day for working families here. That was the day that St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Alderman Shane Cohn introduced Board Bill 83.

BB 83, if passed, will increase St. Louis’ minimum wage to $10 per-hour starting January 1, 2016, and then by another $1.25 per-hour per-year until 2020 when it peaks at $15 per hour.

“I started working in fast food when the minimum wage was only $5.65 an hour,” Chapple told the People’s World. Missouri’s minimum wage is currently $7.65.

“I have a son who also works in fast food. Sometimes I have to ask him for help with groceries and bills, because what they pay us is not enough.”

She continued, “I get two hundred dollars in food stamps a month and I still have to go to churches and food pantries just to feed my kids. This is why I am fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union.”

If successful, BB 83 could be a life-changing event for Chapple, and thousands of other low-wage workers, which is partly why nearly 100 union members, fast food workers, community and religious supporters packed the mayor’s office anxiously awaiting the long overdue announcement.

“The people of St. Louis need a raise,” declared Mayor Slay, who has thrown his full support behind the initiative. The current minimum wage, Slay added, “is simply not enough.”

“All work is dignified and that means that all working families need to earn a living wage and have the ability to save,” the mayor added. “We’re talking about expanding opportunity and reducing inequality. We’re talking about a better chance to create a better life.”

Mike Cogshell Jr., a 20-year-old Sonic employee, cheered the initiative and the mayor’s leadership but told the People’s World, “This is only the beginning. We won’t stop until we get our union, too.”

While there are some opponents to BB 83, like the Restaurant Owners Association, small business owners, like Mikey Carracas, the owner of Taco Circus, support the bill.

“As a small business owner, I believe we need to stop running away from a $15 an-hour minimum wage,” Carracas said. “We should embrace it and embrace the people who work for us. It wasn’t too long ago that I was on the other side of this fence.”            

As the press conference came to an end, Chapple said, “I feel great. This is a great day and I truly believe that we will win!”

A similar minimum wage bill has been introduced in Kansas City, Missouri, as well.

In another victory for workers, only hours later, hundreds of union members convened at the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 36 training facility as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon prepared to officially veto so-called “right-to-work” legislation, which had passed out of the House and Senate before the close of the legislative season.

Right-wing business interests have been trying to make Missouri a “right-to-work” state since the late 1970s. Fortunately, union leaders, members and their allies had always had enough support in the House and Senate to keep legislation from passing. This year, however – with overwhelming Republican majorities in both chambers – enough Republicans supported the bill that it became necessary for the governor to use his executive authority to over-ride the bill with a veto.

To thunderous applause, Nixon told the assembled union members, “‘Right-to-work will never become law in our state.”

RTW “is an extreme measure that will take our state backwards,” the Democratic governor added. “We may have challenges in our economy, but paying workers too much isn’t one of them.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in “right-to-work” states make, on average, $5,500 less per year than their union counterparts. If RTW comes to Missouri “workers can expect to make thousands less,” the governor said.

Currently 25 states have right-to-work laws. Republicans had hoped to make Missouri number twenty-six.

Nixon added, “Since 1978 Missouri has said no to right-to-work and in just a minute I will sign that veto and make sure the voices of Missouri’s working people are heard.”

Taking a step to his left, Governor Nixon sat down, picked up his pen, and with a quick scribble saved tens of thousands of good-paying, union jobs.

Regarding St. Louis City’s efforts to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, Nixon said, “I support Mayor Slay in his effort to raise the wage in St. Louis.”

With cities and states across the country raising the minimum wage, St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, now has the opportunity to show the nation that it is possible to pay workers a living wage while beating back right-wing, Republican attempts to strip workers of their right to form, join, and build unions. 

Photo: Tony Pecinovsky/PW


CONTRIBUTOR

Al Neal
Al Neal

Al Neal is the St. Louis Bureau Chief, writing on politics, the courts and legal affairs.

Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky serves as fundraising co-chair for St. Louis Jobs with Justice, is a member of the United Media Guild and delegate to the St. Louis Central Labor Council. He is also the president of the St. Louis Workers' Education Society. His work has been published in the St. Louis Labor Tribune, Alternet, Shelterforce, Political Affairs and Z-Magazine, among other publications.

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