Jake Hummel has been a longtime successful advocate for Missouri’s working people, so it came as no surprise when he was asked to assume the top post in the state’s labor movement.

St. Louis Local 1 member Jake Hummel, the incoming president of the Missouri AFL-CIO.

A former legislator and key figure in the fight that squashed a proposed Missouri right-to-work law, the St. Louis Local 1 member and journeyman inside wireman will take over as president of the Missouri AFL-CIO on July 1 following the retirement of current president Mike Louis. Hummel has served as the group’s secretary-treasurer since 2014.

“This is something of a natural progression but I’m really pleased by the confidence shown by our executive board,” he said. “I was approved unanimously and I truly appreciate that.”

Hummel served nearly 10 years in the state Legislature and joined with his Democratic colleagues and a handful of Republican members to fight proposed right-to-work legislation. But they were overwhelmed after the GOP won the governor’s office and huge majorities in the House and Senate during the 2016 election. A right-to-work law was passed and signed soon after the legislature began its 2017 session.

The battle was far from over, however. The Missouri constitution allows for a referendum on statewide legislation if approximately 100,000 voters across the state’s eight congressional districts sign a petition requesting one. Opponents of the right-to-work law gathered more than three times that, setting up an election in August 2018.

By a 2-1 margin, voters voted “no” on Proposition A, which repealed the law passed by the Legislature.

“I was so impressed with Jake when I traveled to Missouri to help defeat the right-to-work referendum,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “He not only has a passion for the IBEW and the rest of the labor movement but also knows how to build alliances and get things done. He’s well-suited for this new responsibility and I’m thrilled for him and all our brothers and sisters in Missouri.”

Hummel noted Missouri also has not done away with prevailing wage laws or successfully implemented so-called paycheck protection laws – two other favorite targets in GOP-dominated states. The percentage of Missouri workers belonging to a union also has increased during the last two years.

Prevailing wage laws, commonly called Davis-Bacon laws on the federal level, guarantee workers a higher wage on projects receiving public financing. Paycheck protection laws, on the other hand, are an attempt to weaken unions by requiring workers to re-sign cards to verify their membership more often, usually on an annual basis.

“When we beat right-to-work, we had a majority of both Republican and Democratic voters come out and vote with us,” Hummel said. “I think that when you put an individual issue before the people, the party lines fade away. When you can show them how something affects the bottom line for them and their families, they start to think about things a little differently.”

Hummel, 44, was first elected to the state House in 2008 and served four terms, rising to the rank of floor leader. In 2016, he won a special election to finish out the term of a state senator who had resigned in a district that includes parts of St. Louis City and St. Louis County.

Despite the success in helping to beat back right-to-work, Hummel was defeated in the Democratic primary for the seat in 2018. He stayed active in state affairs, however, through his work with the AFL-CIO.

“I wanted to stay in Jefferson City [the state capital] and stay active in politics and keep working for working people,” he said.

A top priority for him and others at the state AFL-CIO is convincing Missouri voters – and even some union voters – who are against issues like right-to-work not to vote for politicians who consistently support them.

Even after the referendum vote, some state legislators said they would like to pass the legislation again. Missouri used to be a swing state on the national level with Democrats controlling the state lawmaking bodies, but that has changed significantly in the last two decades. The GOP has supermajorities in both the state House and Senate and controls all the statewide offices except one.

“That is a problem nationally for the entire labor movement,” Hummel said. “Workers are with us on the issues. We have to find a way to connect them with the people that support us. That’s been a struggle.”

Eleventh District Vice President Mark Hager also congratulated Hummel on his appointment.

“Local 1 is so well respected throughout Missouri that it’s fitting someone of Jake’s ability and character has this position,” Hager said. “He and others have shown we can win even in a state where the odds are stacked against us. I’m just so proud of him and join with all our members in wishing him the best.”