Labor supporters in Missouri are spending less time relaxing this summer and devoting more of their time to knocking on doors, writing letters to legislators and filling town-hall meetings across the state.
The August push is thanks to Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature, who has vowed to overturn Gov. Jay Nixon’s June veto of a right-to-work bill during the upcoming Sept. 16 veto session.
Lawmakers passed the bill by significant margins in May, but not by the two-thirds majority required to override a veto, and not without using a controversial practice designed to cut off debate.
Right-to-work laws, which exist in 25 states, allow workers to opt out of union dues or lesser agency fees while still benefitting from collective bargaining agreements. Supporters claim the practice creates jobs and stimulates a state’s economy, but countless studies have shown the laws lead to an erosion of wages and decreased job security.
“Rolling back the rights of working people would weaken our economy by lowering wages and making it harder for middle class families to move up the economic ladder,” Nixon said in May.
Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said unions would likely lose members if the governor’s veto is overturned, but middle class workers would feel the negative effects most sharply.
“I think the workers who belong to the unions would suffer,” Louis told the New York Times, “and that would bleed over to the middle-class workers who are not represented by unions.”
The right-to-work debate comes during a time of some turmoil among the legislation’s most vehement backers.
Republican Speaker of the House John Diehl abruptly resigned the day after the right-to-work vote last May, following his admission of an inappropriate relationship with a 19-year-old intern.
And late last month, Diehl’s counterpart in the Senate, President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, also resigned after just two and a half years in the post.
The vacuum has been filled, in part, by millions of dollars from groups funded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. The duo have poured more than $1.2 million into Missouri advertising through their organization Americans for Prosperity, primarily targeting Republicans who voted against right-to-work in May.
The Koch brothers, whose affiliated organizations spent more than $100 million targeting Democrats during the 2014 midterm cycle, have pledged to spend nearly a billion dollars more during the 2016 presidential election.
The group has also waged a door-knocking campaign and sent deceptive anti-union leaflets into targeted districts, the St. Louis Labor Tribune reported. According to some, their effort has started to pay off.
“At least one Republican in the House plans to switch his vote,” said Kansas City Local 124 President Rudy Chavez, who is also the Missouri state political coordinator for the 11th district. “AFP feels like they have the momentum on their side, but we’re holding our own in the House.”
The May 13 vote in the House was 92-66 with 23 Republicans joining Democrats in opposing right-to-work. Two Republicans and two Democrats didn’t vote.
In order to override the governor’s veto, the bill’s supporters need 107 votes from the full House, which would require at least 13 Republicans to flip.
On the Senate side, the numbers are much closer. In May, right-to-work passed 21-13, with four Republicans opposing the measure. Only two of those would need to switch their votes to achieve the two-thirds supermajority required to override a veto.
“The Republicans who are with us are under extreme pressure,” said St. Louis Local 1439 Business Manager Mike Walter, who is also a member of the International Executive Council. “We’re working hard to counteract the money pouring into the state with media spots, letter-writing campaigns and going door-to-door.”
St. Louis Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs said his members and the rest of the building trades are reaching out to labor allies in the legislature regularly as part of their efforts to hold off right-to-work supporters.
“We’re trying to stay in constant contact with not only the Republicans who were with us, but the Democrats as well,” he said, “just trying to thank them for sticking with us and trying to get through this veto session with their votes.”
With the veto session less than a month away, the intensity from both sides is only expected to strengthen. “We’re getting a great response from our members,” Jacobs said. “This is one the things that we get great cooperation on. They all know how important stopping right-to-work is.”
Photo courtesy of The Labor Tribune