New Republican governors in Missouri and New Hampshire and an incoming GOP House majority in Kentucky mean big changes are coming for the labor community in those states. And first on the agenda for all three is right-to-work.
|Missouri lawmakers meet in the House chambers, where this year they’ve proposed a right-to-work bill that looks likely to be signed into law. Similar efforts are underway all over the U.S.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user KOMUnews.
In Jefferson City, Mo., Republican legislators introduced a right-to-work bill on the very first day of the filing period for the 2017 session, all but guaranteeing the legislation will make it to incoming Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk as soon as January. He promised during the campaign he would sign it, unlike outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon, who stood with workers and vetoed similar bills multiple times during his tenure.
“We’re not giving up the fight on this,” said Missouri political coordinator Rudy Chavez, who is also president of Kansas City Local 124. “But November’s elections didn’t go like we’d hoped, and working people are probably going to end up paying the price for that.”
Already, the Missouri AFL-CIO is petitioning citizens to have an anti-right-to-work referendum placed on the 2018 ballot, giving voters a chance to reject the near-inevitable action by the state Legislature in two years’ time.
Bills attacking collection of union dues, repealing prevailing wage standards and limiting collective bargaining for public employees are expected to be proposed in the coming days, and with Republicans controlling the Missouri Senate, House and governor’s mansion, there is little hope of stopping most of them.
The story is much the same in Kentucky, where a Democratic House was the last thing standing between that state and a union-targeting right-to-work law. Gov. Matt Bevins made passing right-to-work one of his top campaign priorities when he ran in 2015, and the November election of a Republican-majority House means he’ll likely have his way on the issue early next year.
“We worked hard to stress the importance of these down-ballot races during the campaign,” said Fourth District International Representative Don Vidourek, who also serves as Kentucky’s political coordinator. “But Republicans won big in the House, and now we expect they’re going to come after working people with everything they’ve got.”
In New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan narrowly won her race for the U.S. Senate, but incoming Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has vowed to sign a right-to-work law once the state Legislature sends it to his desk. Hassan, during both of her terms, threatened to veto the anti-union legislation whenever it came up.
But the attacks on working men and women don’t stop with right-to-work.
In Iowa and Missouri, plans are underway to push anti-collective bargaining laws similar to Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 that targeted public-sector unions in Wisconsin in 2011. There, public sector unions – including many at public utility companies – have been decimated, with statewide union membership dropping from 14.2 percent of workers before Act 10 to just 8.3 percent in 2015. Project labor agreements might be next on the chopping block in the Badger State, where GOP legislators recently proposed a bill ending the practice for public works projects.
In Michigan, which passed a right-to-work law in 2012 and narrowly voted for Donald Trump in November, Republican lawmakers wasted no time in passing anti-union bills that limit the ability of workers to picket employers and make it easier for companies to hire scabs to replace striking employees. The efforts, which dramatically increase fines for demonstrations deemed “an illegal mass picket” and block requirements for employers to inform potential scabs that they would be crossing a picket line, were passed on Dec. 7, just the seventh legislative day in the state since November’s election.
The situation is less dire, but still concerning in Minnesota, where Democrats lost the state Senate in November, having lost the House in 2014. That leaves Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton as the last remaining firewall against right-to-work and prevailing wage attacks in that state.
Texas Republicans have also filed a bill that would prevent government entities from collecting dues from union workers, potentially returning public sector employees there to the days before dues-checkoffs were commonplace.
“The reality of what’s unfolding in state legislatures all across the U.S. is pretty hard to stomach,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Unfortunately, we’re going to spend the next few years fighting these attacks on working people at the state and federal levels. Wouldn’t it be nice if these elected officials spent less time attacking unions and a little more time working to make the middle class accessible to even more of their constituents?”
Working people should keep an eye out for one-sided campaign finance “reforms,” experts say, that would make it harder for labor unions to participate in elections, tilting the scales even further in the direction of big business and billionaires. Also likely are attacks on education, masked as improvements, that could negatively impact union apprenticeship programs.
“All of this just means it’s more important than ever that we in the labor movement stick together to push back against efforts to silence working people,” Stephenson said. “We’re up for that fight.”
Despite the tidal wave of anti-union officials who were elected in November, there were a few signs for hope and examples of what good can come when working people stand together at the ballot box.
In New Mexico and Nevada, Democrats won back critical legislative chambers, stopping the right-to-work threat in New Mexico and ensuring plenty of labor allies in Nevada. In Virginia, voters overwhelmingly rejected enshrining right-to-work in the state’s constitution, a victory that many union activists privately worried would not come.