Missouri workers fight anti-union legislation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – “This is part of a concerted, orchestrated plan to defund those organizations that support and stand up for workers,” State Representative, Clem Smith (D-85), told the People’s World as debate raged on the House floor against so-called Paycheck Protection’ legislation here on March 31.

‘Paycheck Protection’ “makes organized labor work harder and spend more money on new regulations, instead of representing people,” Smith added. “It is an additional burden, an additional hurdle designed to discourage union membership.”

Smith, a member of the International Association of Machinists and the Missouri State Workers’ Union-CWA 6355, continued, “This legislation is designed to take away resources, to take away union dollars.”

After heated debate, the right-wing of the Republican Party passed what union members are calling ‘Paycheck Deception’ out of the House with a slim margin – 83 votes for, 70 against – considered a blow to GOP who passed a similar bill last year with 90 votes. Furthermore, that the Republicans are deeply divided over the issue is apparent, as they hold a supermajority in the House with 108 seats compared to the Democrats’ 52 seats.

State Rep. Mike Frame (D-111), called the legislation “ugly, hateful and revenge filled” and added, “it takes away the right of workers to participate in the political process.”

Frame spared no punches. He called out the sponsor of the bill (HB 1617), State Rep. Holly Rehder (R-148), as vindictive. Rehder currently has a lawsuit filed against her for federal minimum wage violations.

Frame, former political director for the Service Employees International Union, added, this bill is “bad legislation meant to be one more obstacle to union membership.”

In years past Democrats could rely on Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to veto similar legislation. However, if this bill passes both chambers, it will be placed on the August ballot – bypassing the governor and his veto.

Union leaders see this as a worst-case scenario. While they hope to stop the bill in the Senate, they are already preparing for the grassroots ballot fightback and are confident that they can defeat the initiative – if it makes it that far – by reaching out beyond labor’s ranks.

State Rep. Margo McNeil (D-78), addressed the legislation from a different angle. She called the bill “pointedly anti-women,” as a majority of public worker union members are women.

“This legislation targets women in unions – state employees and teachers. It’s harassment of professions that are primarily female.”

Right-wing lawmakers claim the legislation is nothing more than a means by which public sector union members can annually authorize their unions to spend their voluntary contributions on political activity. The bill only affects public sector workers and excludes first responders like police and firemen.

The bill does not address how individual union members are notified of the annual authorization or who pays for it.

Rep. Smith asked rhetorically, “Does the annual authorization magically fly into your home? Does it magically fly into worksites? Who collects the data? Who pays for it? Is it done by magic? No, the union will have to pay for it. It takes away resources and claims to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”

State Rep. Bob Burns, said, “They are mixing apples with elephants.” Burns a lifelong Teamster and third generation union member would know.

He clarified the point. Under current law “union dues do not go towards political campaigns. It’s against the law. Unions have segregated funds that members voluntarily donate to. Members can withdraw their contributions at any time. This bill is nothing but a bold-faced lie.”

Burns, who is also chair of the House Labor Caucus, added, “Organized labor is a way of life. This isn’t about me. It isn’t about us. It’s about all workers.”

Bradley Harmon, president of the Missouri State Workers Union CWA-6355, told the People’s World, “HB 1617 is a patronizing bill that doesn’t treat state workers like adults. It treats them like children who don’t know what they are doing when they sign an authorization card to join a union.”

“Most of our members are women and people of color. Are we shocked that the Republican majority in the House doesn’t want to treat them like adults? It’s racism and sexism. It’s anti-worker, anti-union and patronizing.”

“I joined a union because I want a voice at work – and in Jefferson City,” Beth Pitney, an eligibility specialist for the State of Missouri said. “Every day I do what the people of Missouri trust me to do. That trust has been broken. Instead of making it harder for me to do my job, politicians should start working to create jobs.”

The passage of so-called ‘Paycheck Protection’ came on the heels of the MO AFL-CIO’s annual Labor Legislative Conference that convened earlier in the day.

MO AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Mike Louis, said, “This bill is about politics. It is totally unnecessary and unfair. It hurts people who work for us every day. It is shameful.”

“Instead of addressing the fact that Missouri state workers are 50th in the nation in pay, they want to make it harder for hardworking public workers to have a voice on the job.”

At the Legislative Conference Louis said, “We’re going to do whatever we’ve got to do. We won’t stop until we win.”

State Senator Gina Walsh, president of the MO Building and Construction Trades Council, told the conference, “We’re in this for the long haul. We’ll win on the ground.”

Back on the House floor State Rep. Jeff Roorda (D-113), a member of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, called the bill “repugnant” and “based on a myth.”

“Just admit that you are coming after trade unionists. Just admit that this is the first attack and that there are more to follow,” he concluded.

Democrats are expected to filibuster the bill in the Senate.

Photo: Labor union members rally at the state Capitol to combat anti-labor legislation, in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jordan Shapiro)



Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the president of the St. Louis Workers' Education Society (WES), a 501c3 non-profit organization chartered by the St. Louis Central Labor Council as a Workers Center. His articles have been published in the St. Louis Labor Tribune, Alternet, Shelterforce, Political Affairs, and Z-Magazine, among other publications. He is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA," and is available to speak at your community center, union hall or campus.