In Missouri, some Republicans help stop anti-union push

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri legislature ended its 2012 legislative session without passing any major anti-union bills, thanks ironically to a new alliance among Democratic state senators and a dozen or so of their Republican colleagues, who signaled their leadership that they wanted no part of the anti-union agenda announced at the beginning of the session by Republican Senate leader Rob Mayer.

Mayer opened the session in January with an announcement that he would make a so-called Right-to-Work (for less) bill a major priority. Other Republicans introduced bills that would drain union treasuries and prevent their use for member education.

And still other pieces of legislation were aimed at weakening the state’s prevailing wage and workers’ compensation laws, and preventing project labor agreements on construction projects. A bill aimed at restricting teacher tenure died on the last day of the session, May 18.

Democrats in the senate, outnumbered 26-8, confronted the bills at every step of the way with help from their unexpected band of GOP allies.

“We couldn’t have done it without a dozen or so Republican senators helping us,” said Sen. Tim Green of St. Louis County, who along with Senate minority leader Victor Callahan led the opposition.

“Relationships still have an impact in the senate, and we built those relationships of trust and respect over time,” Green said. “We put down the gauntlet several times during the session,” he said, referring to filibuster promises he and Callahan announced when anti-union bills were brought up.

The state senate Democrats did so knowing they had support from enough Republicans to suspend the senate’s business long enough to delay other business on the GOP’s leadership agenda.

In the state House, something similar was happening. The Speaker, Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Farmington, let union leaders know early in the session that he had no stomach for so-called right-to-work (for less) legislation.

In a session with the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, Tilley said he was not anti-union. The best path for jobs and economic growth in the state required labor-management cooperation, he said.

Herb Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, expressed gratitude to Tilley after the session ended. Johnson, who was also the state fed’s top lobbyist and a longtime veteran of the legislative halls, retired after the session’s end.

Johnson coordinated the union effort against the anti-union bills in the House, where union leaders developed support from as many as 20 to 30 GOP representatives over the course of the session.

“Union solidarity was a key,” Johnson said. “We worked together and stayed together throughout the session.

“We talked to both Democrats and Republicans. When we explained our issues, we found a lot of Republicans would support working family issues.”

Johnson also cited GOP Senator Tom Dempsey of St. Peters, the Republican floor leader of the senate, for his openness and willingness to listen. “Dempsey in the senate and Tilley in the House helped us in a variety of ways. We owe them our gratitude and respect,” Johnson said.

But Johnson reserved his most generous bouquet for Callahan and Green. “In the face of overwhelming odds, they deserve credit for stopping the anti-union agenda of these Right-Wing zealots who have taken over part of the Republican Party here in Missouri and many other states. Their leadership was simply outstanding.”

Dana Spitzer is editor of the St. Louis Labor Tribune.

Photo: Union members gather in Missouri to hear politicians speak about Right to Work (for less) legislation.   Julie Smith/AP