The nostalgic image of the American labor union — dedicated to standing up for workers — is a thing of the past. Fighting to maintain power in the face of dwindling membership, unions across the United States have resorted to force and stealth. The battle has made its way to Missouri and if the General Assembly votes to override Governor Nixon’s veto of House Bill 116, making Missouri a right-to-work state, it will certainly be a victory for the people of Missouri.
Governor Nixon proclaimed himself a champion of the middle class in vetoing HB 116, but the middle class has been telling him they don’t need his help. Since the 1960s, union membership has been steadily declining in Missouri, from a peak of 27 to 8 percent today. This trend mirrors the rest of the country, which has seen union membership plunge from 30 to 11 percent over the same period. The fact is, workers know a good product when they see it and are choosing to reject union membership.
Unions have increasingly grown out of touch not only with America, but with their own workers. Big union bosses and their administrative assistants routinely rake in salaries larger than $250,000 – not exactly “working class”– while their members, making less than one-tenth what some of these union bosses make, pay dues every month that go directly into the bosses’ pockets.
Right-to-work bills are exactly what they advertise: the freedom for individuals to work without having a portion of their paychecks automatically taken for union dues to line the pockets of those rich union bosses. While Governor Nixon and union leaders’ assumption that they know what’s best for Missourians is insulting, the real reason for forcing public sector workers to turn over a portion of their hard-earned paychecks is the political power and influence the source of cash supports.
Make no mistake, Governor Nixon and Democrats across the country have benefited from generous campaign contributions to get and keep them in office, and now Governor Nixon is doing his best to return the favor. The stakes are high in holding onto this extremely lucrative relationship – for both sides. This demonstration of scratching each other’s backs is obvious but there are also less obvious and downright deceptive tactics at-play in the flight to cling to power.
Numerous groups have resorted to stealth to launch aggressive campaigns against overriding Governor Nixon’s veto by simply dropping their union names. For example, “Preserve Middle Class Missouri,” a state-level arm of Preserve Middle Class America, described on its website as “a grassroots coalition of citizens and organizations,” is, in fact, run by the Teamsters and has channeled more than $1.4 million since 2012 into a nation-wide lobby effort to defeat right-to-work bills.
Other groups like “We Are Missouri” and the “Committee to Protect MO Families” use the same model to portray broad, diverse resistance to right-to-work bills. But the truth is, under the guise of grassroots groups, they are massive, powerful union-driven operations far bigger than the states in which they campaign. Perhaps this is why so many of these groups are having trouble hearing the 54 percent of Missourians who support right-to-work laws.
The decline in union membership, wherever workers do have the choice, is no doubt due to workers’ views that the organizations simply aren’t serving their needs. Unions have shifted from their original mission of fighting for worker, to full blown political machines dedicated to advancing progressive, left-leaning causes and keeping Democrats in office.
Terry Pell points out in Forbes that unions have become more creative in their political activity, opting to channel donations through Super PACs. For example, the American Federation of Teachers donated $2.3 million dollars to groups that lean left including “$75,000 to the Human Rights Campaign (national group working for “working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights”); $50,000 to the Center for American Progress … and $25,000 each to Jesse Jackson’s “Rainbow Push Coalition” and Al Sharpton’s “National Action Network.”” It’s hard to see how these groups benefit teachers.
Unions have not been a good stewards of members’ resources and, whenever possible, workers are choosing to leave. HB 116, making Missouri the 26th right-to-work state, will not eliminate private sector unions; it will give workers a choice. If unions decide to refocus on serving workers, and make changes to pull them back in, organized labor has nothing to fear.