By Michael Layer
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Before the Labor day weekend, union advocacy groups are organizing in an effort to repeal the labor reform bills passed in 2017 – like right-to-work, prevailing wage repeal efforts, the St. Louis minimum wage cap, and the employment discrimination bill better known as SB 43. Among the groups that were in attendance were Empower Missouri, SMART-Union, SEIU, Missouri NAACP, and Missouri Faith Voices.
At the event, they announced a conference in early October in St. Louis. The event is hosted by Empower Missouri and sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women in St. Louis, MATA, Dowd Bennett LLC, SEIU, and Vision for Children at Risk. The conference is designed to mobilize labor groups who want to improve worker conditions, which they feel have been diminished across the state. They also announced that they will be passing out FAQ sheets that outline the rights of Missourians under the law.
One of the issues they felt that marginalized workers’ rights was right-to-work. The groups were pleased to announce that they had collected over 300,000 signatures on their petition to put right-to-work on the ballot in 2017.
“Hundreds and hundreds of people got together and took petitions that were written by the Secretary of State with the ballot language that was on there,” Jason Hayden, Director of the Transportation Division in SMART-Union said. “Some went door to door, some went to different county and city events… There was some resistance in certain areas, but for the most part, most people were willing to sign the petitions.”
He is optimistic of its repeal because of how the community embraced the petition process as many of those who collected petitions were unpaid volunteers. For him, it acted as another measure of the popularity of union based workplaces.
At the meeting, SB 43 received unanimous scorn from the civil rights and labor advocates, but was particularly condemned by Jeanette Mott Oxford, Executive Director of Empower Missouri. She felt that in addition to SB 43’s receded protections for Missourians of color and other protected groups, the bill is especially damaging for society because it prevents upward mobility, as promised in the American Dream.
One of the claims of enacting SB 43, as well as the other pro-business/anti-union bills, is that it invites big business to come to Missouri. Republican lawmakers, like Sen. Gary Romine and Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, feel that these laws like SB 43 save business owners from nuisance discrimination lawsuits they cannot win. McGaugh feels that companies are looking to come to states like Missouri because of these tort reform measures.
Rod Chapel, a civil rights attorney and president of the Missouri NAACP, says that SB 43 will not only make it less safe for protected classes in the workplace, but in society. For him, the bill enables racist redlining practices, unfairly low wages with little opportunities for improvement, and does nothing to attract businesses except facilitate prejudice.
“There’s not a single business that came forward and said they wanted a marketplace where civil rights could not be freely protected in the courthouse. Not one… If you look at large employers [who are creating massive amounts of jobs, mostly in the information sector], I’m waiting to see how many of those companies are rushing into Missouri to do business because of our new law,” he said.
This story originally appeared on The Missouri Times.