© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Loudon asserts that unions "blow up cars,'' outraging labor leaders

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 15, 2009 - Former state Sen. John Loudon, now head of a Missouri group opposing a measure that would help labor organize, has touched off controversy with his warning Wednesday to business leaders that unions "blow up cars."

Two of the state's top labor leaders -- Missouri AFL-CIO president Hugh McVey and St. Louis Labor Council president Bob Soutier -- called such a statement an insult to "every working person" at Dierbergs, Schnucks and other union businesses.

Loudon's comments were made to business leaders and reporters attending a Springfield, Mo., event aimed at energizing opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, a congressional proposal also known as "card check." The Act would allow workers to unionize by signing cards rather than by holding a secret-ballot election. Such an election could still be held if the workers desire; now, businesses can require an election.

One of the attendees at the Springfield event, reporter Dave Catanese at KY3, posted Loudon's comments afterward on Twitter. In the Tweet, Loudon says, "I've taken on casinos and labor ... My wife says, 'why don't you pick on one group who doesn't blow up cars?'"

Loudon is the Missouri head of Save Our Secret Ballot, called SOS Ballot for short -- a group that has launched an initiative-petition drive to prevent card-check from being implemented in Missouri, regardless of the congressional action. Loudon and other opponents, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, are holding a series of events around the state.

At the St. Louis area gathering on Tuesday, some of the comments by Loudon, Kinder and others were anti-union, but none was as inflammatory as Wednesday's statements in Springfield. (Kinder skipped that event to join former Bush strategist Karl Rove at an anti-card check event in Clayton, KY3 reports.)

Loudon went even further in a telephone interview late Wednesday with the Beacon. While emphasizing that his comment in Springfield was partly a joke, Loudon continued, "Unions and the mob influence in gambling have a history of getting rough with people who get in their way ... They like to physically intimidate people."

Loudon said his point was a serious one: that non-union businesses and workers may face such intimidation if Congress approves the Employee Free Choice Act.

Soutier and McVey said they heard of Loudon's "bomb cars'' comment late Wednesday, as union members saw it on Twitter. "Every person who goes to work with a pail in their hand should be outraged by what this man says," Soutier said.

McVey, who tangled with Loudon during his days in the Legislature, said, "I'm not surprised that John Loudon would say such a thing, that is so out of line."

But McVey added, "Who is he talking about when he talks about 'bombing cars?' Who is he representing? Who is paying John Loudon to show up?"

A national consultant with the SOS Ballot campaign told St. Louis business leaders on Tuesday that their contributions to the anti-card-check effort could be kept private because their checks would be written to the national group, which in turn would send money back to Missouri for the initiative-petition campaign. The consultant, Tim Mooney, said the aim was to protect the donor businesses from union anger.

McVey said it was improper that donors to Loudon's group can remain anonymous, when union supporters of card check "are out there."

About two dozen local supporters, some with the Service Employees International Union and others with Missouri Pro-Vote and Jobs With Justice, picketed and chanted Wednesday evening outside the Clayton office building where Rove was headlining the anti-card check event organized by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, Loudon had a retort ready when told of the union leaders' complaints about his comments.

Loudon said he had one question for them: "Where is Jimmy Hoffa?"

He was referring to the former president of the Teamsters who disappeared in the 1970s and is presumed dead.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.