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Union Workers Rally At Missouri Capitol Against 'Right To Work' Legislation

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
An estimate 1,000 union workers turned out on March 26, 2014, to oppose "right to work" efforts by Republican lawmakers.

Roughly a thousand labor union members crowded onto the south lawn of the state Capitol Wednesday to rally against legislation to turn Missouri into a "right-to-work" state.

Several bills, all in the Missouri House, would do just that, although none has been moved to the House floor yet.  They are House Bill 1053, HB 1094, HB 1095, HB 1099, and HB 1143.  Each one would mandate that workers cannot be required to "engage or cease engaging in" labor organization practices as a condition of employment.  Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, told the crowd that if any of the bills makes it to his desk, he'll veto them.

"This latest attempt to make Missouri a 'right-to-work' state is unnecessary and misguided," Nixon said. "'Right to work' is wrong and would move our state backward. Everybody here knows what would happen if (any of those bills make) it to my desk, OK?"

House Bill 1053 cannot be vetoed, however, because it was written to require voter approval -- instead of the governor's signature -- to take effect.

"But if they try to go around me and put this wrong-headed legislation for a vote of the people, I will stand right beside you and we will fight and win just like we did in 1978," Nixon told the crowd to enthusiastic cheers.

Nixon also criticized Republican lawmakers for pushing other anti-union bills.  They include one to eliminate the state's prevailing wage for construction projects and another to require unions to get written permission from workers before withholding dues.

Fellow Democrat, Attorney General Chris Koster, also addressed the crowd. He told them about the construction of the new bridge over the Missouri River that links the town of Rulo, Neb., with northwestern Missouri and how that project illustrates the difference between "right-to-work" states and Missouri.

"When the contractor pulled up the wage sheets for the two states, he realized that laborers on the Missouri side made $31.56 an hour, while the laborers on the Nebraska side made $8.30 an hour," Koster said.  "The contractor on the Rulo bridge project was shamed into paying everyone on that job Missouri's wage."

Koster, who's expected to run for governor in 2016, also used the occasion to take a swipe at two high-profile Republicans who are expected to seek higher office that same year.

"That may be (House Speaker) Tim Jones' vision for a better Missouri, that may be (state Auditor) Tom Schweich's vision for a better Missouri," Koster said, "but it's not my vision for a better Missouri!"

Schweich is seeking re-election as auditor this year but could seek higher office in 2016.  Jones recently announced that he would not run for state Senate and plans to seek a statewide office in two years.

There was, however, a Republican lawmaker who spoke at the rally, state Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles.

"Do we need 'right to work'? No!" Zerr shouted along with the crowd.  "As chair of the Economic Development Committee and as a (pro business) Republican, you might think that I would  be anti-labor...but you know what?  Working with labor is good business practice, and you get what you pay for!" 

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.