Missouri unions follow scandals closing in on GOP Gov. Greitens
Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, perhaps the most anti-labor governor Missouri has ever had, is sinking almost daily deeper and deeper into a pool of scandals. | AP

ST. LOUIS —To borrow a line from former GOP President George H.W. Bush, right-wing worker-hating Missouri GOP Gov. Eric Greitens is in “deep doo-doo.”

And Missouri’s unions are avidly following the chaos in Jefferson City.

Greitens, elected in 2016 on an extreme anti-worker platform – starting with a so-called “right to work” law and going from there — is enmeshed in scandals. His wrongdoing may drive him right out of office.

From criminal investigation over an admitted extramarital affair, to allegations he blackmailed the woman to keep her quiet, to a lawsuit over his and his aides’ violation of the state’s open records law, the governor is up to his ears in political and legal trouble.

And that doesn’t even count his hypocrisy in calling for limits on lobbyists’ campaign contributions, but not on the “dark money” businesses funnel into politics, including to Greitens’ drive to retain RTW against a citizen-backed labor-pushed referendum to kill it.

All this didn’t stop Greitens from advancing anti-worker measures in his mid-January State of the State address to the heavily Republican legislature. They included killing prevailing wage laws and enacting so-called “paycheck protection” legislation virtually banning unionists’ voluntary campaign finance contributions.

But it left St. Louis-area union leaders wondering if he could get thrown out on his ear.

“Allegations of extortion, blackmail or threats against women must absolutely be treated seriously,” said David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655.

“This governor campaigned on cleaning up Jefferson City’s toxic culture and it is disappointing that yet another elected official campaigned on one set of values but practices another. I hope the governor reflects seriously on his choices and makes the right decision for himself, his family, and most importantly the citizens of Missouri.”

A bipartisan group of state senators signed a letter asking state Attorney General Josh Hawley to investigate the blackmail allegations.

“Violence and threats against women are never acceptable,” Senate Democratic leaders Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, and Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said in a joint statement calling for the allegations to be investigated. Walsh, the minority leader, is also a Heat and Frost Insulator retiree and president of the state Building Trades Council.

“People accused of these egregious acts do not get to waive off the scrutiny of law enforcement simply because they are in a position of power, and victims of these crimes deserve our full support,” Walsh and Curls said.

Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, said, “The only way we can remove this cloud is to get all the facts. We need this to move as quickly as possible. If it exonerates him, we can move on. If it doesn’t, he needs to resign or face impeachment.” And Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called on the governor to resign.

St. Louis television station KMOV reported on Jan. 10 Greitens had a sexual relationship in his home with his former hairdresser in 2015 and the woman’s ex-husband alleged Greitens photographed her in the nude and threatened to publicize the image if she discussed the affair. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched a criminal investigation.

The story broke shortly after Greitens delivered his State of the State address. Greitens admitted to the affair but, through his attorney, denied taking a nude photo of the woman or threatening to blackmail her. In a tape secretly recorded by her ex-husband, the woman said Greitens told her he would disclose the photo, taken while she was bound and blindfolded, if she spoke about their relationship.

Then there’s the alleged violation of the Open Records law, thanks to a message-deleting “Confide” cellphone app, first reported by the Kansas City Star. Attorney Ben Sansone sued in December on behalf of the Sunshine Project, a group that champions open government, asking a judge to bar Greitens and his staff from using the app and to require him to reveal the names of all staffers who have used the software.

“Use of automatic communication-destroying software by elected officials and government employees is illegal and constitutes an ongoing conspiracy to violate the Missouri Sunshine law and Missouri State and Local Records law, not to mention a significant affront to the open government and democratic traditions of Missouri and the United States,” the suit claims.

State Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, asked GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley to probe that, too. Hawley seeks the GOP U.S. Senate nomination this year.

“In a masterstroke of hypocrisy, Greitens’ State of the State speech Jan. 10 stressed the need to support Missouri’s working families and provide quality education and services to those most in need, despite the deliberate actions of his administration to produce exactly the opposite impact,” Labor Tribune publisher Ed Finkelstein reported.

“And he had the gall to call on legislators to pass a law eliminating lobbyist gifts while totally ignoring the more corrupting influence of secret money flowing into multiple secret committees that don’t have to name their donors. The governor himself is the biggest benefactor of this flaw, so we know why he simply ignored it.” Greitens’ pro-RTW committee has already received $1.1 million in the secret “dark money.”

“To make it even easier for the lobbyists and secret money to control legislators, as is now the case, Greitens called for term limits for all state officeholders. While ‘term limits’ sounds wonderful, it’s a serious flaw that forces experienced legislators out and brings in a flood of inexperienced newbies who are easily and effectively influenced by lobbyists, making the lobbyists even more influential for their special interest paymasters,” wrote Finkelstein.

Greitens’ GOP state legislative allies – who hold a lopsided majority in the state senate and a significant edge in the House – want to push the pieces of their anti-worker agenda that didn’t make it through in 2017. They include:

  • To destroy or substantially weaken prevailing wage laws that ensure (1) all construction workers on a job get a fair wage, (2) men and women are paid the same wage, and (3) construction jobs go to Missouri contractors and their workers. Without having to pay prevailing wage, history has shown that fly-by-night contractors will flood in with cheap wages to underbid local companies and import their own workers.
  • Implement RTW legislation and force union families to lose money in their paychecks. Greitens’ secretive dark money group, “A New Missouri,” has already donated $1.1 million to political action committees formed to push RTW in this year’s election.
  • Kill public employee unions by forcing them to hold representation elections every year, and allowing non-members to vote in those elections.
  • Introduce Paycheck Deception for public employees that would restrict unions’ political spending to support worker-friendly candidates, while leaving corporations free to spend freely.
  • Downplay the importance of education by cutting state funding for public schools, community colleges and universities, despite the governor’s call for “strategic investments in education.”

Tim Rowden is the editor of 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.