No statewide political contest this November has clearer stakes for working families than the Missouri governor’s race.
|Missouri attorney general Chris Koster, the state’s likely Democratic nominee for governor. The IBEW and other labor groups are pushing for Koster’s election in order to thwart right-to-work attempts in Missouri.
“If the Republicans win,” Kansas City Local 124 President Rudy Chavez said, “Missouri will have right-to-work before we swear in our next president.”
Unlike some other Midwestern states, Missouri has successfully fought off furious right-to-work attempts even with overwhelming GOP majorities in both the state House and Senate. That’s because of the veto pen of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and a handful of Republicans willing to cross party lines to support pro-family legislation.
It takes a two-thirds majority to override a governor’s veto, something right-to-work advocates have failed to do. They also have failed to repeal Missouri’s prevailing wage laws or pass paycheck deception legislation despite repeated attempts.
But state law prevents Nixon from running for a third term. A GOP replacement virtually would ensure right-to-work passage. That’s why the IBEW and other unions are working hard to elect Democrat Chris Koster, the state’s attorney general, who has come out strongly against right-to-work.
“We’ve definitely been mobilizing around him for quite a while,” said St. Louis Local 1 member and Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary/Treasurer Jake Hummel, who also is a member of the Missouri House of Representatives. “I think everyone realizes the gravity of the situation. If we don’t elect him, we have right-to-work and paycheck deception and the repeal of prevailing wage in the first month of the legislative session [in January].
“If we don’t elect him, we’re in trouble.”
Added Chavez, who also serves as the IBEW’s Missouri political director: “This governor’s race is the hottest in the country.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently spent three days in St. Louis. Much of his time was spent campaigning for Koster and he called Missouri “ground zero” for anti-worker attacks, according to the St. Louis Labor Tribune.
“The corporate right wing has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at us here in Missouri. … We have defeated every single piece of bad legislation. It is absolutely critical that we build on these successes in 2016,” Trumka said.
Trumka told KWMU radio, St. Louis’ NPR affiliate, the election will determine if Missouri “will continue to veer toward the rich and those rich donors who want to make more at the expense of working people, or whether working people will start to write the rules so that we can create a shared prosperity economy that benefits everyone.”
Koster is a strong candidate. He has consistently spoken out against legislation that harms working families and received nearly 56 percent of the vote in his last election as attorney general in 2012.
He is facing token opposition in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary while the GOP has a hotly-contested primary between four candidates, all of whom favor right-to-work. Koster has already raised between $10 and $11 million, Hummel said. Despite Republican dominance in the Legislature, Missouri voters have shown an independent streak. Democrats hold six of the eight offices elected statewide.
But whoever wins the GOP primary is expected to be well funded. Missouri is one of 12 states that does not limit the amount individuals can donate to a candidate. The Republican nominee likely will get substantial donations from wealthy individuals that have pushed hard for right-to-work legislation in the past.
“It’s going to be an extraordinarily expensive race, the most expensive in our history,” Hummel said. “With unlimited donations, it’s going to be tough for us to keep up.”
That’s where working people can make a difference, Hummel said.
“The IBEW has one of the largest union voting blocks in the state,” he said. “It could not be more important for our members to knock on doors and make those phone calls.
“I know that may not be what you want to do when you get off the job and it’s 110 degrees and you’re tired. It’s difficult. But it’s important to remember that if we don’t do those things, and don’t remember the things we fought for, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Hummel noted the Missouri AFL-CIO is supporting some Republicans in the state legislature who have voted against right-to-work laws and other legislation that harms working families.
“It’s important that our membership knows that voting for the right candidate is not the same thing as voting for one [particular] party,” he said.
Right-to-work laws allow employees to opt out of paying membership dues, even when they receive the benefits of a union contract. Prevailing wage laws require contractors doing business with governmental bodies to pay their workers at pre-determined levels. Paycheck deception is called paycheck protection by its supporters and requires members of unions to state in writing each year they want union dues taken out of their paychecks.