Missouri: Paid petitioners offered $1,000 to provoke fights over phony RTW petition
Workers lined the sidewalk leading to the Secretary of State’s office as 163 boxes of petitions containing 310,567 signatures to repeal “right-to-work” by placing in on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide were delivered, Aug. 18, 2017. Right-wingers and big business backers of RTW are now circulating a phony petition in an attempt to void the achievement. | St. Louis Labor Tribune

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (PAI)—With the fight over so-called “right to work” heating up in Missouri, thousands of unionists rallied at the state capitol building in Jefferson City recently against the GOP’s brainstorm—and for a labor-backed referendum to defeat it.

The right-wing and business backers of RTW, which workers and their allies call “right to work for less,” countered by importing out-of-state residents to gather signatures for a phony petition which really supports RTW—and paying those out-of-staters $3-$5 per signature and $1,000 bounties if they get unionists to physically fight them on the street, while being filmed.

The right-wingers who dominate the gerrymandered Missouri legislature have pushed RTW for years, but didn’t succeed until now-indicted GOP Gov. Eric Greitens, who ran on a pro-RTW platform, signed it in 2017. Unionists and their allies then gathered more than 310,000 signatures—triple the number needed—to put the issue on the ballot this year. That delayed RTW’s implementation.

The Missouri RTW law is one of a raft of anti-worker pieces of legislation that have been jammed through the legislature over the protests of workers and its heavily outnumbered Democrats. Other schemes cut workers’ comp, prevent unionists from participating financially in politics, and cut construction workers’ wages. Unionists say if RTW passes, more anti-worker legislation will follow.

All are part of the nationwide campaign—pushed by right wing business interests and led by the anti-worker Koch brothers, Kansas City oilmen—to crush workers and unions.

At a March 28 “Paychecks Over Politics” rally at the capitol, unionists loudly opposed the phony “right-to-work” law––which will appear on the August or November ballot as Proposition A. RTW, speakers said, will do nothing to create jobs or to protect worker wages, safety requirements, and pension benefits. The state Building and Construction Trades Council organized the rally.

State Senator Gina Walsh, a retired member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1 and president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council, told a rally at the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City, March 28, that when Prop. A (RTW) appears on the ballot, “We will be there!” | St. Louis Labor Tribune

State Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, building trades president and a retired member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1, told unionists: “It doesn’t matter when they vote on Prop. A, we will be there! I’m depending on each and every one of you to make that happen!”

“Right now, union workers and our families—our families—are under attack. We told them in ’78 that we didn’t want ‘right-to-work.’ They’re back again. They are going to be back every year. But we are going to send a clear message to these folks come election time.”

Missouri voters defeated RTW 40 years ago, and threw out most of the statewide GOP elected officials who favored it, too.

“Prop. A wants to tear down what we built. Prop. A means lower wages, fewer rights, and less protection for your family,” Walsh said.

“We’ve got to knock on doors. We’ve got to make calls. We have to get the vote out. We have to get our kids registered. We have to have our kids and our parents and everyone we know knocking on doors, educating people, telling them about this issue,” she urged.

Walsh also warned the crowd about the phony petitions RTW’s right-wing backers are now circulating. She said they’re trying to trick voters into signing that petition by implying it supports collective bargaining rights. It doesn’t.

The paid petitioners are circulating a RTW constitutional amendment to confuse voters and get them to enshrine RTW in the state constitution, she explained. “Do not sign anything until you read it,” Walsh said. “I’m all for our rights and our abilities to get something on the ballot, but read what they’re putting in front of you.”

Defeating Prop. A is only the first step, said State Sen. Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, a member of IBEW Local 1 and secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO. But it is a must-win, he added.

“We have to defeat Proposition A, that’s our job now. And we cannot fail,” Hummel said. “Because if we do, the people in this building, the people who want to take away our rights and cut our pay and give our jobs to someone else, they won’t let up. They won’t stop. They’ll keep coming back for you, your family, your family’s way of life.

Opponents of right to work rally at the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City, March 28. | St. Louis Labor Tribune

“But you know what? You know what they haven’t realized? They’ve awoken a sleeping giant. And that giant is pissed off! We’re not going to stop fighting for what we believe in. We’ve got to get to work. We’ve got to knock those doors. We’ve got to make those phone calls. We’ve got to talk to our neighbors, our families, our friends. We beat this thing in 1978—ask our retirees here today—but this is our time now, and we’re not going to let you down.”

Meanwhile, petitioners hired from a Chicago temp agency to get signatures on a deceptive “right-to-work” petition in Missouri were offered a $1,000 bonus to provoke a fight with a union member. Roy Gillespie Sr., human rights commissioner for Teamsters Joint Council 13, learned about the $1,000 bounty bonus talking with an individual who approached a petitioner about wanting a job and would like to join their signature effort.

This “fight bonus” is in addition to the carpetbaggers being paid $3-$5 per signature in an effort put a RTW constitutional amendment on the November ballot to enshrine RTW in the state’s basic charter. That’s RTW supporters’ backup in case their side of Prop A loses.

Gillespie personally experienced the effort to create a fight at a Dollar Tree store in Ferguson, where he encountered three petitioners. When Gillespie confronted one of the petitioners and asked to see a copy of the petition, this man said he didn’t need to read it, that it was just to create jobs in the community.

When Gillespie insisted and read it, he discovered it was the phony RTW petition.

“Why did you lie to me?” Gillespie asked, letting him know he was a union member and didn’t appreciate him lying about it. The reply, “Are you signing or not?” When Gillespie said “No,” the petition carrier cursed him and said, “Get your old ass out of here.”

As Gillespie began walking to his car, all three carpetbaggers began cursing and screaming at him. “I knew they were trying to get me to fight so they could video it, but I wasn’t falling for it,” Gillespie told the Labor Tribune. “Have a great day,” he said and drove away.

St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White also encountered petition gatherers, in Bridgeton, Clayton, and DesPeres. He reported they use a two-step approach to deceiving people on the RTW issue. The first is seeking signatures on a petition to require a public vote before moving any public monuments, playing off publicity about the city of St. Louis moving Confederate statues in Forest Park. The second is the pro-RTW constitutional amendment.

With these paid, out-of-state pro-RTW petitioners on the street, unions are reminding members that there is no legitimate RTW petition in circulation right now and that the campaign to defeat Proposition A is already on the ballot. They are also telling members to notify their family and friends not to be provoked if petition gatherers seek to start a fight with them. St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White said, “We know they are looking to video a fight to use in a TV commercial or a flyer. Don’t get suckered. Please just walk away.”

Those who do see someone circulating the phony RTW petition are being asked to call the Missouri AFL-CIO’s “Decline 2 Sign” hotline at 573-340-6573.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Labor Tribune.


Tim Rowden
Tim Rowden

Tim Rowden is an award-winning writer and editor with 25 years of progressive experience in daily, weekly and online journalism, media relations, and advocacy journalism, including editor of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune, and reporter and bureau chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Ed Finkelstein
Ed Finkelstein


Ed Finkelstein is publisher and editor of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune.