The state motto of Missouri is “salus populi suprema lex esto,” Latin for “let the good of the people be the supreme law.”
That’s exactly what Missouri’s labor community is hoping will happen later this year when voters get the opportunity to overturn anti-union legislation.
The battle began in January 2017, when newly-elected Gov. Greitens signed the anti-union “right-to-work” legislation into law. The Missouri AFL-CIO immediately filed the necessary paper work to repeal the law.
Volunteers made history last year when they turned in nearly 311,000 signatures to put the repeal of right-to-work on the ballot. The measure is called Proposition A, and the labor community is encouraging everyone to vote “no” on Prop A.
“I’ve always been pretty proud of my union heritage,” said IAM member and Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis. “But August 18, 2017 was one of the proudest days of my life when we turned those signatures in.”
Not only did supporters turn in three times the signatures needed, they were successful in reaching the required amount in all eight of Missouri’s congressional districts—a feat that had never been accomplished before.
It has yet to be decided exactly when voters will get their opportunity to overturn the anti-union law. It is currently scheduled for the November election, but lawmakers could move it to the primary election in August in hopes of a lower voter turnout.
“They think that if the vote is in August, labor won’t show up to vote in November, but they’re wrong. We will be there,” said IAM District 837 President/Directing Business Representative Steve McDerman. “If the vote is in August, we will just have to speed up the process.”
“We have put together a forked plan, if it’s August we are ready, or November we are ready,” said Louis. “Either way we will win this.”
Now that Missourians will have a chance to vote on Prop A, the state’s labor movement must prepare to educate voters. A task that requires more resources than signature collecting.
Organized labor has filled union halls across the state for training sessions with volunteers in an effort to get the boots on the ground needed to go door to door educating voters.
“More training is involved in this phase,” said IAM District 9 Directing Business Representative Mark Conner. “Much more time is needed to educate a voter than to collect their signature. They not only have to be educated on the downfall of right-to-work legislation, but also educate them on our message of ‘vote no on Prop A.’”
“We have to get face to face with voters,” said McDerman. “This is the most effective way of educating them on the issue. We can’t get everyone face to face, but we have to try. It’s going to take a lot of boots on the ground, but we are ready. Our members know we are in a fight for our livelihoods and we have to put forth all our resources.”
The campaign to overturn Prop A also focuses on registering new voters during the education phase.
“Our outreach has a voter registration component to it which is very important. Since early February we have registered around 12,000 new voters,” said Louis.
“Right now we are working hard on voter registrations,” said IAM Local 778 Directing Business Representative Joe Capra. “We are making sure our members, families and neighbors are all registered to vote. All the DBRs and their staff in Missouri are working hard to educate our members and urging them to let everyone know how this hurts middle class workers.”
IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Philip J. Gruber, left, presented Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis, third from left, with a $250,000 check at the Missouri State Council of Machinists/Legislative Conference in March as part of the IAM’s $1 million pledge.
Right-to-Work Crushing Workers in the Midwest
Since being enacted in Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, right-to-work laws have had varying impacts on worker wages depending on occupation. Right-to-work laws have statistically reduced the average hourly wages of:
With nearly 25,000 active and retired members living and working in the Show Me state, it’s no surprise the Fighting Machinists have taken the lead in this crucial battle for workers.
Following a $250,000 initial donation by the IAM in February, Midwest Territory General Vice President Phil Gruber presented Louis with a check for $250,000 in March, bringing the total monetary donation to $500,000. The remaining half-million-dollars in resources will be boots on the ground—dedicated IAM members and staff teaching and educating the public.
Every penny raised in opposition of Prop A is going to be needed. Political action committees supporting right-to-work are raising millions of dollars in dark money, mostly from out-of-state donors. One famously anti-union billionaire donated $500,000 to the cause. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of being and IAM member and the support we have gotten from them,” said Louis. “They are leading the way in this fight.”
“I can’t thank the International President, General Vice President Phil Gruber and the rest of the IAM Executive Council enough for the commitment they have made to our members, their families and all of Missouri,” said Conner.
“I also couldn’t be prouder of IAM Local 777’s own and Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis, Secretary-Treasurer Jake Hummel and their team,” said Conner. “They have done an outstanding job leading this fight. I can’t think of anyone else I would rather be with in the trenches.
Greitens’ narrow margin of victory has been the difference of whether labor would be on the offense and making gains, or defensively trying to keep from losing ground.
“We had an aggressive plan in place to raise prevailing wage, change the state law to include ‘just cause’ for people to be fired and to improve workers compensation laws,” said Louis. That’s the stuff we should be working on, but instead we are doing this.”
“There is a real concern that when right-to-work is overturned, lawmakers will just turn around and pass it into law again the very next session,” said Conner. “We have to go back to the polls to make sure we elect people who support labor.”
“This right-to-work fight has really shown our members how much elections matter,” said Capra. “You have to pay attention to where politicians stand on worker issues so you don’t get blindsided by this anti-union legislation.”
The importance and necessity to defeat Prop A is not lost on any union member in the state.
“Our district has a great staff and membership,” said McDerman. “They get it and are working hard. Our retirees are helping out as well. They know what’s at stake. They understand that without a union their kids and grandkids will be working for nothing.”
“You don’t have to be a citizen of Missouri to help out in this fight,” said Capra. “If you live in a neighboring state you can come and volunteer to educate voters on the negative impact Prop A will have on everyone. If you don’t live close, we could always use financial help. We can’t match these corporations dollar-for-dollar, so every little bit helps.”
“I can’t emphasize enough that all our members need to get involved and volunteer for this cause,” said Conner. “If not, each and every one of us, including our children and grandchildren will suffer. Please volunteer.”
“I became a Machinists Member in 1978,” said Capra. “That was the very same year we fought and defeated right-to-work in Missouri. I was a part of that fight. We educated the voters and they did what was right for workers, and they are going to do the same thing in 2018.”
As the saying goes, history has a way of repeating itself. Hopefully with a lot of hard work by Fighting Machinists and others, the phrase will ring true in Missouri later this year.