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Editorial: Missouri Democratic Party must publicly address claim of unfair labor practices

Editorial: Missouri Democratic Party must publicly address claim of unfair labor practices

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Missouri Democratic Party worker

Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

Ben Conover, a former data specialist for the Missouri Democratic Party, filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board claiming unfair labor practices by the state party.

The Missouri Democratic Party is facing, of all things, a complaint by the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices against unionized employees. Even if party officials did nothing wrong, it’s political malpractice to have let an employee conflict come to this without at least publicly addressing what’s going on. Democratic donors are within their rights to question whether the state party can still claim the pro-labor mantle.

The case centers on Ben Conover, a former data director for the party who alleges he was fired to “discourage” protected activities by the newly formed employee union. Conover has said he was helping lead financial negotiations with the party on behalf of the unionized employees when he was fired.

Conover claims that, right after more than a dozen of the party’s workers moved to unionize early last year, the party brass sent out emails describing “significant changes” to work assignments for those staffers. Another former party staffer told the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup that she and other workers were summarily fired right before Christmas, and suspicions among them focused on whether it was an attempt to stop the union bid.

It’s true that political party organizations routinely hire and fire based on election cycles, and any employer can face allegations of unfair labor practices from disgruntled employees who were justifiably fired. But the fact that the NLRB has taken up the case indicates there is at least some smoke here.

The party isn’t commenting publicly on the issue, which is standard practice for private employers embroiled in pending labor litigation — but this isn’t a standard situation. As the party that has long defended labor rights and has relied heavily on union support in fundraising and at the polls, Democratic officials risk looking like the worst kind of hypocrites here.

If Conover’s claim is meritless, party officials have not only the right but the obligation to publicly explain why. Otherwise, they should reach a settlement with him, including full and public disclosure of terms, and get out of the unacceptable position of being targeted by a federal labor-rights action — possibly the first that the NLRB has ever lodged against a political party.

Conover has said he wanted to unionize in part to “live out the values of the party,” which makes some sense. “We say that we’re the party of working people,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “It just seemed to be an ideal fit.”

The values of the Democratic Party are, indeed, pro-labor values. If the Missouri party has violated those values, it must come clean about that. If it hasn’t, it still must publicly defend itself instead of hiding behind lawyerly silence. The party of the working people can’t act like some faceless corporation on an issue as central to its identity as labor rights.

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