Missouri Votes on Right-to-Work – Again

Auckland       Unbelievably, workers and their families, and, well, everyone registered to vote once again has to go to the polls on the whether or not businesses can impose so-called right-to-work legislation in Missouri. This isn’t the first time.In the last 50 years, if memory serves, unions have had to beat back these corporate challenges at least twice, and thus far always been successful.

Missouri is simply one barometer of how contentious this issue continues to be since the first right-to-work laws were passed after Taft-Hartley kicked the ball over to the states in the 1950s when previously union shops, and even closed shops, had been allowed. Many southern states led the right-to-work train. Louisiana was the last to fall twenty years later in 1976.  The anti-union, anti-worker push has continued to grow extending right-to-work even to the bastion of Michigan. Now, there are 23 states and the District of Columbia that allow union shop provisions and 27 that are right-to-work.

Right-to-work has nothing to do with work or getting a job. The title has been clever – and effective political marketing.Right-to-work legislation simply means that when unions represent workers in collective bargaining agreements they have the ability to negotiate with their employers certain fees for the mandatory representation obligation that is the responsibility of unions under the exclusive representation interpretation that has emerged under decisions of the National Labor Relations Act.Economic studies find that workers in right-to-work states make an average of 3.1% less in wages.

Unions are hardened to this fight in Missouri.  The conservative, Republican legislature passed a right-to-work statue during the last term of the legislature that was promptly signed by the Republican governor.  Labor and their allies quickly got more than 300,000 signatures to repeal the legislative action on the ballot. The right-to-work proponents played the last trick in their hand by scheduling the vote in the August primaries where there would be fewer base voters than the November midterm general elections, so the vote is coming now.

In a rarity union backed groups have outspent their opponents, raising almost $12 million to the over $3 million that anti-union groups have pulled together according to the Missouri Election Commission. Some odds favor the momentum of labor in this ballot.Missouri’s “show me” voters have tended to reject legislative acts when they have the chance to have their voice heard by voting.Anti-worker business interests are hoping they still have some steam in their tank in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision that recently eliminated agency fee agreements for public employees. The Wall Street Journal has reported that 24,000 public workers in Pennsylvania and 31,000 in New York ceased fee payments potentially cost unions more than $16 million in dues revenue.

Class struggle seems to never have an expiration date, and in Missouri it shows its ugly face every decade or so in the struggle over right-to-work.I’m betting on unions and workers again, but it’s never a sure thing.


Tactics Are Working in Police Protests

"die-in"at a Missouri mall

“die-in”at a Missouri mall

New Orleans     Weeks and months are now passing by since the grand jury failed to indict in Ferguson, Missouri and the drumbeat of cities with police forces similarly culpable continued to pile on top of one another in a sick body count. Importantly, the protests also continue in no small way because organizers have found important tactical responses and symbols that using excellent organizing are imminently replicable throughout the United States and the world. The combination of such clarity and replicability has kept the anger in check, the dialogue intense, and the protests alive.

The New York message blazoned even on NBA players t-shirts, including those of megastar Lebron James, saying “I Can’t Breathe!” have huge power to communicate.  NFL and college football players that have run into the end zone and then held their hands up high in a memorial that has also been effective.

Nothing though has been more powerful or dramatic than the “lie-ins” where protestors have laid silently and “dead” in protests of these killings. Interestingly, this has been a tactic that works with small numbers. Certainly some of these die-ins have involved hundreds, but for the most part many are very dignified and effective protests in unlikely venues with numbers more often in the tens and twenties. The surprise that is confounding the press and attracting them like candy is that some of these protestors break the usual stereotypes and press pigeonholes because they are “suits,” lawyers and law students, doctors and med students, and people simply moved to act.

Until the recent crazed killing of two innocent policeman in New York City, the right had no response and were forced to focus on race and the law, appropriately. Now some of the Fox News types are trying to see if they can shift the blame from justice to provocation on the part of protestors and politicians like the progressive Mayor de Blasio of New York City who has argued for more accountability. More soberly I listened to a caller on Travis Smiley early in the morning saying he feared for his son of similar age and what might happen when they were now conditioned to fear those that they should see as protectors.

Disturbingly, the caller also felt the police over reaction dated to Obama’s election as President. There is conversation and a culture shift that has to happen in the United States about race now. The back patting of the elites on Obama’s election continues to mask deep issues that must be resolved.

The New York Times in a recent study found that reporting to the FBI on killings by police annually was wildly inaccurate and left unreported more than 500 such killings nationally by their count. Many no doubt were in the line of duty, but part of the problem is that the definition of duty and the training to fulfill those responsibilities is clearly out of whack. The notion of “appropriate” response seems missing, and the proportionality that the “broken windows,” “no crime is too small” strategy calls for between incident and reaction is more broken than any windows. There is no rationale for a death sentence for selling a “loosie” cigarette on the street for goodness sake. The small Covington, Louisiana police force in a suburb of New Orleans hit the streets in the holiday season to play “secret” Santa and give out $100 bills to random, passing motorists. It’s not a solution, but at least it’s an idea.

We need a lot more. The tactics are good, so the protests might continue long enough to force some real discussion, and maybe some realization that change has to finally come around police methods and tactics as they look at all who are different as “invisible assailants,” and even more importantly about race and what we all need to do to close the divide.