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De-Constructing Prop A

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There are so many reasons why Missouri voters should say no to Prop A that I don’t know where to start.

It’s no accident that most of the Right to Work (RTW) states are in the South – the birthplace of chattel slavery, Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that guaranteed the free and almost-free labor that made the cotton industry profitable. Racial discrimination followed African Americans up North to industrialized jobs where they were often forced into the most menial, unsafe and grueling jobs. Black folks have been fighting for fairness and dignity in employment ever since.

Our fight should always be about the human right to work for fair wages in safe, clean conditions, not for this fake version of workers’ rights. Reactionary conservatives have hijacked the phrase in a deliberative attempt to confuse people: Who would oppose the right to work?

Missouri voters soundly defeated the referendum in 1978, yet RTW kept raising its ugly head throughout the last 40 years in the state House. Democratic forces in the General Assembly were able to beat back proposed bills with the promise of a veto by the Democratic governor should the legislation reach his desk.

In 2017 Missouri’s Republican-dominated Legislature and now dethroned Governor Eric Greitens were finally able to pass and sign into law the referendum to make Missouri the 28th state to adopt laws that favor the greedy corporations and anti-worker traps.

RTW has always been shrouded in deception – starting with the name – to further its opponent’s strategy to take the country back to a time when employers could work people to death (literally), including children. Companies set the wages and hours and paid little attention to unsafe working conditions. Benefits like the 40-hour week, health care, medical leave and vacation days were non-existent. Those standards that we now take for granted were the results of struggles by workers organized by the labor movement.

The language of Prop A implies that it’s all about protecting workers from union terrorists who want to extort union dues from workers. The real extortion is coming from these greedy corporate execs who don’t want to pay livable wages, yet bring in salaries 360 times the average worker. Among a few other items, the referendum will prohibit unions to require dues from workers or to join the union as a “condition of employment.”

True, Prop A will make it difficult to collect union dues and undermine the bargaining strength of unions to fight for better wages, benefits and working conditions. But the consequences of Prop A go far beyond the 10 percent of unionized workers in Missouri. It will ultimately affect non-union workers, and disproportionately affect women and black workers.

The Economic Policy Institute researched the impact of RTW across the nation and compared the quality of life in non-RTW states. The report highlights the differences in wages and quality of life based on race and gender. Black workers, already suffering in low-wage jobs, should expect no breaks. The only breaks will be those for the rich and greedy.

I cringe when I think about the money that’s being spent to economically oppress workers in the campaign to drive wages down. A New Missouri, an organization affiliated with Greitens, is the top donor to Prop A with a whopping $1.5 million. Then there’s Uline company co-founder Richard Uihlein, who dropped a cool $600k on the Prop A campaign. When vultures like these win, workers are sure to lose.

The next round in this fight will happen on Tuesday, August 7. Missouri voters must soundly defeat Prop A, which is dressed up as protection for defenseless workers against unions. This is not about the right to work. This is about maintaining the standards of decency and fairness in the workplace regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. This is about improving the quality of life for working families in Missouri that can lead to viable communities. Prop A will drag this state backward and progressive-minded people should not stand for that.

 

Published July 19, 2018 by the St. Louis American

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