Governor calls unions the voice of American workers

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “We live in a time in which more and more capital is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told about 250 union delegates and activists here at the annual AFL-CIO Labor Legislative Conference on March 25 and 26.

He even compared the struggle for workers’ rights today to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, where nearly 150 workers, mostly women burned to death when a fire broke-out in the ten-story building in-which they were working.

He added, without organized labor we wouldn’t have the minimum wage, child labor laws, the 40-hour workweek, unemployment benefits, pensions or vacation time.

“Unions have long-been the voice of American workers and their families,” he concluded.

Missouri AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Mike Louis, agreed with Nixon, and said, right-wing Republicans in the legislature want to “do away with us and beat us down. That’s their agenda. That’s what they want to do to us.”

The Republicans currently have an overwhelming majority in the Missouri legislature. However, most trade unionists are optimistic that enough moderate Republicans will break with their right-wing counter-parts, there-by keeping anti-worker, anti-union bills from passing with a veto-proof majority.

On top of the AFL-CIO critical list are so-called ‘right-to-work,’ paycheck deception and anti-prevailing wage laws.

Right to work for less laws are designed to bankrupt unions by allowing people who do not pay union dues to benefit from a union negotiated contract, grievance procedure, health and pension benefits, and higher wages – all without paying union dues.

While unemployment is higher in right to work for less states, workers in those states are also paid about $1,500 less per-year than their counter-parts in non-right to work for less states.

Paycheck deception laws restrict the ways in-which unions can collect and spend dues payments.

Two different paycheck deception bills have passed the Missouri House and Senate; both bills require unions to annually seek consent before dues can be collected or spent on political activity.

According to Bradley Harmon, president of the Missouri State Workers’ Union (MSWU) CWA 6355, “Every public sector union in Missouri would cease to be a union. We would have zero members on January 1 if the Senate bill becomes law.

“Workers would have to sign authorization cards and keep signing authorization cards every year after that,” Harmon said.

Firefighters and police officers are exempt from both bills.

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.

A majority of Missourians have rejected right to work for less, paycheck deception and anti-prevailing wage laws repeatedly over the years.

Governor Nixon told the assembled union members that workers have received over $5.5 million in back pay due to prevailing wage laws.

Nixon added that prevailing wage enforcement was “non-existent” when he became governor.

He said, in 2008 there were only 180 cases involving misclassified workers. “Since 2009,” Nixon said, “there have been 26,000 cases involving misclassified workers.”

He added, “We just took the reins off. We let the Department of Labor do its job.”

Governor Nixon also talked about Medicaid expansion, calling it the “most fundamental economic issue” facing the state.

He said, not expanding Medicaid will “break our state budget, causing our financial house of cards to come tumbling down.”

Currently the federal government pays for 60 percent of the cost of Medicaid coverage, while Missouri pays for 40 percent of the coverage.

According to provisions in the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will, starting in 2014 pay 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for calendar years 2014, 2015, and 2016, while paying at-least 90 percent of the funding thereafter.

Nixon jokingly explained, “One-hundred percent is more than sixty, and zero is less than forty.”

He said, “Stick with me. This is hard: The budget works better with one-hundred percent federal money, than it does with sixty percent federal money.”

Conservatively, Medicaid expansion would create 24,000 new jobs and expand health care coverage to an additional 260,000 uninsured people in the show-me-state. Currently, 600,000 Missourians do not have health care.

Secretary Treasurer Mike Louis said, “This is the most important labor legislative conference ever. We are under attack like never before.”

After the morning session union members went over to the State Capital and lobbied their state representatives and senators against anti-worker legislation, and for Medicaid expansion.

“The 1 percent think that they have bought and paid for the Missouri legislature and are counting on them to pass anti-worker legislation,” Harmon said.

“But they didn’t count on the fierce resistance they are getting from organized labor in Missouri.”

Photo: peoplesworld flickr



Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.