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July 2017

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Working Missouri Families Get Rare Win

Missouri has been battered by anti-labor legislation in recent months. That didn't stop the IBEW and its allies from fighting off an attempt to repeal the state's prevailing wage statute.

On May 12, the state Senate let a bill passed by the House die that would have done away with prevailing wage. That seemed unlikely earlier in the session, when a right-to-work law was passed and signed by Gov. Eric Greitens.

To do so, the IBEW and other trade unions turned to their signatory contractors, who took the lead in a public campaign and testified against the legislation.

They also worked with the IBEW and the Missouri AFL-CIO to lobby Republican legislators, particularly in central Missouri. Workers and contractors there had a higher interest in maintaining prevailing wage laws because of the large number of public projects in Jefferson City, the state capital; and in Columbia, home to the University of Missouri's flagship campus.

"It made a huge difference with the [National Electrical Contractors Association] making phone calls to those elected Republican officials in which they had influence and saying 'Hey, we don't want this'," said state Sen. Jake Hummel, a member of St. Louis Local 1. "It will hurt my bottom line and it is governmental overreach. We need to make sure Missouri workers are working on this project instead of out-of-state interests."

Tim Green, the director of political, public and community relations for the Electrical Connection — the partnership between NECA and Local 1 in eastern Missouri — said it made sense for business leaders to be the public face fighting the legislation because of the Legislature's disdain for unions.

"We kept organized labor out of the discussion and had the contractor associations take the lead in articulating our position and educating legislators on the validity of these laws," said Green, a Local 1 member.

Prevailing wage laws were enacted in Missouri in 1959 and they require contractors doing business with state and local government to pay their workers at pre-determined levels. Because these projects receive public money, the belief has been businesses should pay workers at a rate that allows them to raise the standard of living for themselves and their families.

They also protect local contractors because they discourage bids from cut-rate companies outside the state that do little to contribute to its tax base.

One study showed the wages of union construction workers fell 2-4 percent in states following repeal.

"If we lose prevailing wage, it would first affect our contractors in the bidding process," Jefferson City Local 257 Business Manager Don Bruemmer said.


Protestors hold a Missouri AFL-CIO banner during a recent rally outside the state Capitol in Jefferson City.

Photo by PeoplesWorld via Flickr Creative Commons agreement.

President Trump: Infrastructure not a Priority

During the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump promised a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending if elected. The news was met with cautious optimism by the construction industry, which stood to gain the most from a major spending spree by the federal government.

The reality of President Trump's plan is vastly different.

Trump's budget proposal released May 23 puts forward just $200 billion in infrastructure spending while slashing $206 billion from existing infrastructure programs.

That's a net decrease in infrastructure spending of $6 billion over the next 10 years.

Despite Trump's talk of a massive rebuilding project, he instead relies on local governments and private investment in infrastructure, which could mean future projects are funded by tolls or increased local taxes.

Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's infrastructure a D+ grade, citing nearly $5 trillion in backlogged repair costs. Two trillion dollars of that needs to be spent on American roadways alone, nearly $1 trillion on the aging electrical grid, another $870 billion on schools, and trillions more on airports, railways, water and wastewater systems, parks and flood control.

"We have to do better than this," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "Our members are ready and able to do the work, but we need real leadership from Washington. America needs to invest in itself."


The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., is one of more than 20,000 U.S. bridges deemed "structurally deficient" by civil engineers. More than 7,700 U.S. bridges are in danger of "imminent collapse."

Photo Credit: Flickr/Fred Schroeder

N.C. GOP Pushes Constitutional Right-to-Work

North Carolina adopted its right-to-work law in 1947, the same year the Taft-Hartley Act, which empowered states to curb the sources of union funding, passed the U.S. Congress. No move to repeal it has gained any noticeable momentum since.

But now, 70 years later, Republicans in the state's Legislature are moving to enshrine right-to-work in the state's constitution.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Winston-Salem, N.C., Local 342 Business Manager Alvin Warwick, who also serves as the state's political coordinator. "Putting this in the state constitution serves no purpose other than to attack unions for existing. It's disgusting."

The push for right-to-work, a law that allows employees to opt-out of union fees while still receiving all the benefits of a negotiated contract, comes on the heels of several high-profile losses for the state's activist Republican-controlled Legislature.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal over the Legislature's redistricting plans, and in March, members were forced to repeal the state's controversial "bathroom bill" after a boycott threat from businesses. They also moved to strip the newly elected Democratic governor of many of his powers after their candidate lost a bid for a second term.

"They need a win, so they've decided to come after us," Warwick said. "This is exactly the kind of thing we've come to expect from this bunch in Raleigh. Luckily we'll have the chance to beat this at the ballot box next November."

Amendments to the constitution must face a ballot referendum before being enacted. If, as expected, the state Senate follows the House in passing the bill, it will put the right-to-work issue before North Carolina voters in November 2018.

In an interview with WLOS in April, Asheville Local 238 President Jason Simons credited the IBEW with giving him opportunities he wouldn't have had otherwise.

"Wages are lower in right-to-work states," Simons told the news station. "You can go there and pay them no pension. They don't need insurance. … Give them money on their [pay]check and [say] good luck. What's going to happen to those people when they're 64 and 65? We let the owners and the corporations off the tab, and we the taxpayer pick it up. Somebody's going to have to pay their insurance. The emergency room, dentist, doctor, whatever they use. Or do we just not care about them?"