ST. LOUIS • Grilled hot dogs, thrown candy and a big side of legislative politics were on the menu at the annual St. Louis Labor Day parade Monday, with local unions using the event to shore up support against next week’s expected push in Jefferson City for “right to work” legislation.
“ ‘Right to work’ doesn’t give you any more rights than you had, and it doesn’t guarantee you more work,” Jim Kolve of the Missouri AFL-CIO said while grilling giveaway hot dogs in a shady spot on the side of Market Street as the parade noisily snaked by. “We need to work on economic development in Missouri, but trying to lower wages is a bad thing.”
It was a common message in the banners on the floats, which read “Right to Work is Wrong For Missouri” and “Right to Work Leads Missouri Right to the Bottom.” And it was a common refrain from parade-watchers, many of them decked out in brightly colored T-shirts touting their opposition to the “right to work” legislation the Legislature passed this year.
“It’s a big threat. Lower wages, cheaper work,” said Kara Cleamer, who was watching the parade in a bright orange shirt that implored: “Stand with Working Families — Fight Right to Work.”
“Right to work” bills, in Missouri and across the country, are measures that would prohibit agreements between labor and employers that require employees to join unions.
Proponents — generally pro-business Republicans — say such measures make states more employer-friendly, thus creating additional jobs.
Opponents of “right to work” legislation, including pro-labor Democrats, say it’s a deliberate attempt by business interests to undermine collective bargaining so they can diminish wages, cut benefits and chip away at workers’ rights.
The current Missouri debate centers on a bill the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in May, making it illegal to require union membership or dues as a condition of employment. The measure would make Missouri the 26th state in the nation to pass a comprehensive “right to work” law.
But Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed it in June, calling it a threat to unionized workers and wages. The Legislature returns to Jefferson City next week for its annual veto session and is expected to take up the matter.
Mathematically, it looks like a tall order. To override Nixon’s veto, supporters of the “right to work” measure would have to convince 17 House members and two senators to abandon their opposition and vote to override Nixon.
The Legislature convenes on Sept. 16.
“We feel good” about the prospects of sustaining the veto, Nixon said Monday morning as he walked along the parade route on Market Street shaking hands with labor supporters.
Legislators, Nixon said, “are hearing from their districts — they’re hearing loud and clear that ‘right to work’ is the wrong direction for their districts.”
Among key backers of the “right to work” legislation is the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We need this reform to compete with states that already allow this freedom to their workforce,” Dan Mehan, the Chamber’s president and CEO, said in a statement on the organization’s website.
“We are nearly surrounded by right-to-work states and we are told by site selectors that Missouri is often overlooked for expansion as a result,” Mehan said in the statement. “This legislation will put Missouri back on the map for job creators.”
The statement cited a Gallup poll that found 54 percent of Missouri CEOs support it.
That figure doesn’t impress Don Griffith of St. Louis, a union carpenter who was watching the parade Monday.
“It was passed by outside interests. The people did not want this,” said Griffith. He offered some advice to legislators: “You may want to support the people voting for you and not just the people throwing money at you.”
The 25 states that have passed “right to work” laws are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Kentucky and Illinois are the only states contiguous to Missouri that haven’t passed such a law.
The Illinois Legislature voted down such a measure in May, even as their Missouri counterparts were passing one. It remains a key goal of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
The bill is HB 116.