April 9, 2013

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Union rally in St. Charles aims at influencing Missouri Senate leader, other GOP lawmakers

By Mark Schlinkmann

ST. CHARLES • About 200 union members rallied here Monday to build some pressure on the Republican-run Missouri Legislature – and Senate leader Tom Dempsey of St. Charles in particular – to reject bills they consider anti-labor.

“Let me make this very clear to every elected official,” said Dave Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655. “We will not back down, we will not go away, we will not stop. We will door-knock your constituents.”

Lawmakers should “stop busting unions and start growing the economy,” Cook said.

The afternoon event, at Frontier Park, was partly aimed at a Senate-approved bill that would require many government employee unions to get annual written consent from a member before dues can be deducted from his or her paycheck.

Yearly consent also would be required before fees could be used for political purposes. The measure is now in a House committee.

“All they want to do is eliminate your voice in politics so they can run rampant over us for years to come,” Cook said.

Many wore yellow T-shirts identifying themselves as members of Cook’s union. Other unions also were represented.

Also opposed by organized labor are House-approved measures to change the way the state figures prevailing wage requirements for public construction work and to allow outstate school districts to opt out of the requirements. Those measures are in Senate committees.

Then there is labor’s overriding concern in recent years: right-to-work legislation that would outlaw employment contracts that make union dues a condition of employment.

Cook commended Dempsey, a Republican and the Senate president pro tem, for opposing right-to-work but said the other measures should be stopped as well.

Unions usually support Democrats but last year endorsed Dempsey, who ran unopposed for re-election. Some other St. Louis area Republicans also have been on good terms.

Dempsey, reached by telephone in Jefferson City, said he voted for the public employee bill because he doesn’t think it overburdens a union doing a good job for its members to have to obtain annual consent for dues and fees.

He said, however, that he believes imposing such requirements on private-sector unions wouldn’t withstand a court challenge.

As for prevailing wage, he said revamping that law is a priority for Senate Republicans because in many areas of Missouri the wages required for government projects are above those paid in the private sector. He didn’t endorse a particular measure.

“The attempt is not to repeal prevailing wage but to make it more representative,” he said.

Dempsey added that he has supported several measures that would boost the economy, such as incentives for air cargo exports and a sales tax hike for highway work.