JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - "These people are not our friends," said Mike Louis, from International Association Machinists District 9, referring to the new crop of right-wing Republicans that now control the Missouri House and Senate. Louis was speaking here at the annual Missouri AFL-CIO Labor Legislative Conference March 28.
According to Herb Johnson, Missouri AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, "We are faced with the big three: SB 1, so-called 'Right to Work'; SB 202, pay check deception; and HJR 6, so-called "Save Our Secret Ballots'."
SB 1 was the first piece of legislation introduced into the Missouri Senate this year. Republicans claim it will create a better business climate and create jobs.
However, according to Sam White, from the University of Missouri Labor Education Program, "'Right to Work' means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But one thing is certain: 'Right to Work' does not increase earnings for working families. It does not create jobs."
Workers in so-called right-to-work states make about $5,500 less a year than workers in other states ($35,500 compared to $30,167). Union density is far lower in right-to-work states; 6.6 percent compared to 15.1 percent. Additionally, right-to-work states spend about $2,670 less per pupil on elementary and secondary education than other states.
Most importantly, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, workplace deaths are 52.9 percent higher in right-to-work states.
Simply put, so-called right-to-work legislation outlaws "union shops" by forcing unions to represent workers who do not pay union dues. Right-to-work legislation attacks union density, weakens collective bargaining rights for all workers and lowers wages.
Secretary-treasurer Johnson added, "They have only one thing on their mind - to attack our very existence. It is a waste of time, a waste of taxpayer dollars and a great big pack of lies. It is outrageous and unconstitutional, and it's going down the crapper."
State Treasurer and Teamster Clint Zweifel told conference participants, "Unions are the building blocks of our economic recovery. Union jobs create opportunity, an entry point into the middle class."
"They aren't simply attacking the institutions of labor. They are attacking the infrastructure that unions have built. They are attacking our families, our communities. They are attacking our hope, our optimism, and the idea that we can do better," Zweifel added.
He continued, saying that, as treasurer, "I make investments. Your tax dollars are invested in companies that invest in you, not kick you while you're down."
Also on the Republican agenda is HJR 6, so-called "Save Our Secret Ballot". According to the Missouri AFL-CIO, HJR 6 fixes a "problem" that doesn't exist; federal law already requires unions to hold secret ballot elections.
According to McVey, paycheck deception (SB 202) would "get us out of politics, which is what they want. They want us out of politics."
Attorney General Chris Koster highlighted the plight of state workers. He said, "We are not going to fix this economy by taking $32,000 jobs and turning them into $25,000 jobs."
"State workers' wages have actually gone backwards 10, 12, 15 percent," Koster added.
The average state worker in Missouri makes about $32,000 a year, and according to the Missouri State Workers' Union, are the worst paid state workers in the nation. Paycheck deception would make payroll deduction of union dues especially difficult for state workers.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon also spoke with conference participants. He said, "Unions have long-been the voice of America's working families. We have an opportunity to stop these attacks, to not just retain what we have, but to move onto the offensive. We have an opportunity to move forward in 2012."
Nixon reminded union members that the labor movement grew by 10,000 members in Missouri last year, saying, "In order to succeed we have to organize and be willing to work collectively."
State Representative Bert Atkins summed up the mood of the conference when he said, "This isn't about unions. This is about harming those organizations that protect workers. Without a union we are just individuals. Unions are the voice of the working class in this country."
Union members will spend the rest of the conference lobbying their representatives and senators against anti-worker legislation.
Image: Stock photo of Gov. Nixon, who spoke at the conference. Provided by his office.