The Electrical Worker online

July 2018

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
Right-to-Work Vote Means Hot Summer Showdown
in the Show-Me State

Missouri voters will still have their chance to repeal the state's recently-passed right-to-work law, but Republican shenanigans mean the vote will come this summer instead of during November's general election.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation passed by the GOP-dominated General Assembly that moves the vote on Proposition A to Aug. 7 — the date of the Missouri primary — instead of Nov. 6. A "no" vote would override the right-to-work law passed by the Legislature and signed by Greitens early last year. Greitens resigned his position June 1 amid an impeachment investigation by the state House and potential criminal charges, but it does not impact the legislation.

Last year, the IBEW and its labor allies collected about 311,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot — nearly three times more than required by Missouri law. Sensing that momentum, right-to-work supporters opted to hold the Proposition A vote earlier to minimize working families' impact on a race with national implications.

"In November, we have a very highly contested election that may decide control of the United States Senate," said Tim Green, a former state legislator and now director of governmental affairs for St. Louis Local 1 and the Electrical Connection, Local 1's partnership with the St. Louis chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

"They did not want the labor vote to be energized on the right-to-work issue, which could possibly benefit Sen. McCaskill and not the Republican candidate," he said.

Right-to-work laws allow employees to opt out of paying union membership dues, even when they enjoy the benefits of a union contract. They undercut wages and benefits throughout a state, affecting union and nonunion workers alike.

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is running for a third term in a state that has gone almost entirely red in the last 10 years. In 2016, the Republicans added to their supermajority in the General Assembly and also took control of six of the eight statewide elected offices.

Attorney General Josh Hawley is likely to be McCaskill's opponent. Republicans control the U.S. Senate 51-49 and view Missouri as a prime pickup opportunity.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm seen in the number of signatures to put this on the ballot," Green said. "Now, that enthusiasm needs to be regenerated in August. If everyone gets out the vote, the labor movement will be successful in defeating this law."

Green cautioned, however, that a failure to get out the vote has hurt Missouri labor organizations in recent elections.

"Elections have consequences," said Green, noting that Missouri had fought off other right-to-work attempts before Greitens' election because a Democrat was in the governor's mansion. "We need people to participate."

Missouri political director Rudy Chavez, a former president of Kansas City Local 124, agrees the Senate race was the reason the Legislature moved the Proposition A vote, but he thinks it actually helps the IBEW and other groups opposing the measure.

"Moving it up three months will help us to be motivated," Chavez said. "I think people are fired up again. By having it in August, we know that when we spend our money on media [advertising], we won't be competing with statewide races. That's an advantage for us."

Turnout usually is lower for primary races than general elections, but Chavez said that will be an advantage as well — if working families get to the polls.

"It still comes down to getting your people out," he said. "I compare it to what I tell our members who are running for things like school board. You know there will be low turnout, but it's kind of low-hanging fruit. If we can get our folks out when others don't, you'll win."

Chavez said Local 124 is advertising during Kansas City Royals radio broadcasts urging voters to vote "no." It also has several mailings planned within its jurisdiction and is encouraging members to find at least six people to get to the polls and vote "no."

Local 1 advertises heavily in the St. Louis area as part of the Electrical Connection. It is urging voters at the end of each radio advertisement to vote no on Proposition A, Business Manager Frank Jacobs said.

Green said Proposition A needs to be defeated decisively. The larger the "no" vote, the less likely right-to-work proponents will bring the issue up again.

"I'm sure those special interest groups won't go away very easily," Green said. "Hopefully, a strong defeat of this measure will help."

The deadline to register in Missouri for the August election is July 11.


Missouri working families rally at the state Capitol after turning in signatures forcing a right-to-work referendum.

Law Repealing Bank Rules Opens the Door to
Another Great Recession

Nearly eight years of high-stakes lobbying by the banking industry paid off in May when the U.S. House voted to dismantle regulations that pulled the country out of the Great Recession, put millions of Americans back to work and protected consumers from financial ruin.

The vote finished what the Senate started in March, dealing a final blow to key provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that helped rebuild the economy after Wall Street's collapse in 2008 and was designed to prevent future calamity. President Trump signed the legislation May 24, calling it "a truly great day."

The nation's largest banks, whose risky investment schemes were largely responsible for the worst global economic crisis since 1929, are expected to reap billions from the partial repeal.

"These banks took massive risks in search of enormous profits, and when they got into trouble, it was working people who paid the highest price," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "One in four of our construction members were out of work after 2008. People lost their jobs, their homes; marriages crumbled, all so these bankers could make a few extra dollars. And now this Congress has set them free to do it all over again."

The Republican-sponsored law exempts all but a handful of financial giants from the stricter oversight that Dodd-Frank imposed.

Even with Dodd-Frank rules in place, the banking industry's profits have soared. Now they are expected to skyrocket. "This is not a bill that benefits consumers. It is a big-bank bonanza," Rep. Al Green, a Texas Democrat, said during the House debate.

Thirty-three House Democrats voted with all but one Republican in favor of the bill. Among those who stood firmly against it was Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who said it puts the economic security of "hard-working American people" at risk.

"It rolls back key safeguards for American consumers. It opens the door to lending discrimination, and it potentially threatens the stability of our financial system and our economy," Pelosi said on the House floor. "The bill would take us back to the days when unchecked recklessness on Wall Street ignited an historic financial meltdown. Wall Street gambled with the livelihood of consumers and then it was the middle class that lost its shirt."


Wall Street is cheering a new law that weakens banking regulations.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Shinya Suzuki

Repeal of Tax Hike on Union Members and
Traveling Workers Stalls

A bill to repeal a new tax on union dues and unreimbursed job expenses has stalled in the Senate, a significant financial blow to many working families and union members.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, would reverse a little-publicized hike in the 2017 tax bill. Until last year, taxpayers who itemized their return could deduct a portion of their union dues and other unreimbursed job expenses. That disappeared when Donald Trump signed the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" in December.

In 2014, the most recent year data are available, Americans deducted $90 billion for union dues and miscellaneous job expenses. The savers included hundreds of thousands of IBEW utility, telecommunications and construction members, who will no longer be able to deduct part of the cost of uniforms or expenses incurred when traveling for work.

The total cost of getting rid of that one deduction is close to $20 billion a year, according to Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

To put that in context, ITEP found that the new law cuts taxes on foreign investors by $47 billion annually and the corporate tax rate cut in the bill will reduce the tax bill of just one company, Apple, by nearly $7 billion each year.

"There is a basic inequity in the tax bill that places union members at a disadvantage relative to companies trying to subvert those unions," Gardner said.

One of the biggest sources of bias toward corporations and the rich, he said, was that while workers can no longer deduct basic job expenses, corporations can continue to deduct billions of dollars in business expenses.

"That means businesses can deduct the cost of lobbying Congress not to eliminate the business expenses deduction," he said.

The bill's supporters argue that an increase in the standard deduction to $10,000 for an individual and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly will make up the difference.

"Maybe that is true for the average taxpayer, and maybe it isn't. We will see. What is certain is this Republican Congress found a way to go after workers," said Political Department Director Austin Keyser. "Many IBEW members are unique. Hundreds of thousands of members travel to multiple jurisdictions a year to work on sporting events and large projects, including storm recovery. It's concerning that they may be negatively impacted."

While union dues are no longer deductible, Keyser said, membership dues to join the anti-union Chamber of Commerce still are.

Casey's bill attempts to right at least part of the inequity, bringing back the tax deduction for job expenses and union dues and making it available to more people.

Traditionally, only the 30 percent of taxpayers who itemized their return could take advantage of the mortgage interest, state and local taxes and job expenses deductions, among others.

But since the tax bill eliminated or capped those deductions, Gardner said he expects less than 10 percent of taxpayers will bother itemizing their return this year.

Casey's bill simply adds a line to the standard 1040 form that 90 percent of American taxpayers use so all union members would have access to those deductions, including many who weren't able to take advantage of it before.

Unfortunately, Keyser said, the bill is stalled in the Finance Committee and unlikely to see any action as long as the Senate majority leader is Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"McConnell won't bring this up unless it is five days before the election and it's politically advantageous for him to do so. And then he'll try to take credit," he said. "Capturing the House and Senate and forcing this bill onto President Trump's desk is the only way we'll make up for the damage the tax bill did to us."


Working people lost a major tax deduction last year and a bill to bring it back faces an uphill battle in Congress.