I watched a simultaneously hopeful and disturbing clip of Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley this morning on the issue of the Right to Freeload* legislation that just passed through a Senate committee. The clip was posted by Missouri News Horizon and you’ll see why I found it both hopeful and disturbing in a minute.
Missouri Senate President Pro tem Rob Mayer is trying to figure out a way to not only get freeloading legislation passed through his chamber, but get it passed by a veto-proof margin. Democratic Governor Nixon will, of course, nix any such freeloading law, and since no Senate Democrats will support it either, that means Mayer will likely need all Senate Republicans to support it in order to overcome Nixon’s veto. That will be tough to do, hopefully.
But what I want to focus on is the pro-business agenda the Missouri legislature is currently pursuing. Obviously, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to attract businesses to this state or any state. We need jobs. The problem arises when the pro-business agenda trumps all other considerations. In other words, The Missouri Chamber of Commerce should not be running the state legislature. But that’s how it seems.
The Missouri Chamber has outlined its priorities for this session in its Fix the Six agenda, which includes weakening our state’s minimum wage law, limiting the rights of injured workers, and making it easier to fire employees. This anti-worker agenda is, of course, advanced under the rubric of “promoting jobs” in Missouri. Fair enough. The Chamber of Commerce has a right to promote its agenda on behalf of businesses, just like labor unions have a right to promote theirs on behalf of workers in the state.
But in Missouri, now dominated by Republicans, the only agenda that matters is the business agenda. In the clip I saw this morning, House Speaker Steve Tilley classified the Right to Freeload legislation as “not a priority.” That’s good, at least for Missouri workers. That is the hopeful part of the interview.
However, it appears that the Chamber of Commerce wishes it would have named its pro-business agenda, “Fix the Seven,” since it now sees an opportunity to push through the Right to Freeload in Missouri, what with all the concerted attacks on unions by various Republican governors and legislatures around the country.
Either “Fix the Seven” didn’t resonate well with Chamber marketers or they just didn’t think they had a snowball’s chance to get freeloading through this session. Whatever it was, the Chamber didn’t originally include the Right to Freeload on its agenda and Speaker Tilley made that point in the short interview:
Tilley: My concerns is [sic] that when you have the business groups come together and said,”Here’s our top six things,” it wasn’t in the top six things and so my thought process is try to address what they think are the top priorities and then when once we’re done with those things, then we can take a look at it.
Question: The state chamber came out, though, late last week, and said they do back right to work…
Tilley: All I know is when they submitted—I agree—and I’m not saying that there’s not a lot of people in the House that wouldn’t support it. I’m just saying that right now we’re going to focus on the things that the business coalition sent us at the beginning of the year that we can find some compromise. And I think in the “Fix the Six,” I think what you’ll see is, you know, you’ll see bipartisan support for quite a few of those, maybe not all of them, but quite a few.
Okay. What we have here is Tilley acknowledging that he wants to concentrate on what is already on the Chamber’s wish list, without adding something new to it. But look at that language he used:
“…try to address what they think are the top priorities…”
“…we’re going to focus on the things that the business coalition sent us at the beginning of the year…”
That is the disturbing part. What is it that gives the Missouri Chamber of Commerce such sway over legislation in Missouri? Why should it have such sway?
What if a Democratic Speaker said this:
“…we’re going to focus on the things that the labor unions sent us at the beginning of the year…and when we’re done with those things then we will take a look at their other desires…”
No, a balanced approach, recognizing both the needs of business and the wellbeing of workers, is the proper way to conduct the people’s affairs in this state or any state. But here in Missouri it’s all one-sided, and, truthfully, it has been for years.
Fortunately, polls are showing that the people around the country are siding with workers and their unions.
In a CBS/New York Times poll, 60% oppose killing collective bargaining rights and 56% are opposed to cutting pay and benefits to reduce state budget deficits.
By a 42-31 margin, the public supports public sector unions against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in a Pew Research Poll. Those who identified as Independents supported the unions by a narrower 39-34 margin.
I did find even better news in the Pew poll. If you look at the results below, those folks with modest incomes overwhelmingly support the unions because they apparently understand that unions represent the best hope they have of moving up the income ladder.
Also, younger folks are overwhelmingly supporting the union by a difference of 33%. That is a good sign. Perhaps we haven’t yet seen the end of the era of unionism, but only if unions can win the propaganda battle as workers age. Republicans and pro-business zealots are very, very good at this kind of propaganda. Here are the Pew poll results:
* For those who don’t know, Right to Freeload, or as it is widely known, Right to Work, is a state statute that allows workers to obtain benefits obtained through union advocacy without having to pay union dues. I suggest you never go out to eat with a Right to Freeload supporter because he will always—always—expect you to pick up the check.