August 21, 2017

Union members block anti-worker legislation

More than 300,000 Missourians signed petitions demanding a public vote to repeal a new state right-to-work-for-less law, effectively blocking its implementation.

Proponents of so-called right-to-work (RTW) laws simply want to drain unions of resources so that working people will not have a powerful voice. For decades, Republicans have tried to turn Missouri into an RTW state, which means workers can avoid paying dues while still benefiting from union representation.

Making membership dues an option instead of an obligation weakens unions’ power and depresses wages and benefits in states that have RTW laws. In states with RTW laws, workers are paid $6,109 less annually than workers in states that uphold the right to organize. Workers in RTW states have lower rates of health care coverage and pay larger shares of their health insurance premiums.

States that restrict collective bargaining also have higher poverty, infant mortality and workplace fatality rates. In fact, the rate of workplace deaths is nearly 50 percent higher in states with anti-union laws in place.

After the 2016 general election, Republicans hold 33 governor’s offices. They have majorities in 33 legislatures. And they control both these bodies in several states. That kind of control opens the door to an all-out assault on the workers’ rights.

Missouri is one of the most recent states to have a change in tide with a new Republican governor in office.

“It’s really the best opportunity in quite some time to accomplish a lot of big ticket items—not just in one or two states, but in five, 10 or 15,” Sean Lansing said, Chief Operating Officer of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. “Really, the sky’s kind of the limit.”

At the national level, the threat of sweeping limits on private and public sector workers’ rights looms large.

Republicans in Congress have already introduced legislation for a national law allowing workers to avoid paying dues while reaping the rewards and protections that union membership provides.

At the same time, the US Supreme Court—with its new pro-corporate Republican majority—is poised to consider a case that would ban fair-share fees in the public sector. In fact, the case is an Illinois-based lawsuit, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, spearheaded by Gov. Bruce Rauner as part of his anti-union crusade. It will come before the court within the next several months.

“When working people have the freedom to speak up together through unions, we make progress together that benefits everyone,” said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch. “We are a nation of people that fight for our rights and that’s just what these Missouri workers are doing.”

"This is our living," said Tamara Maxwell, a union member who works at Kansas City's Ford assembly plant. She joined hundreds of other workers rallying at the Missouri Capitol on Friday when the petitions were delivered. "We should be in control of that, not one person just signing it away."

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