The Buzz

Missouri labor unions spend big to fend off ‘right to work’

Right-to-work legislation will be in the spotlight in the Missouri Capitol in 2016.
Right-to-work legislation will be in the spotlight in the Missouri Capitol in 2016.

Organized labor in Missouri is gearing up for another right-to-work fight in 2016.

It’s been nearly two months since a handful of Republicans joined with Democrats to kill legislation that would have made it illegal to force a worker to become a union member or to pay dues to a labor organization as a condition of employment.

In that time a political action committee run by the Carpenters’ District Council of St. Louis & Vicinity has donated $335,000 to a bipartisan group of candidates. Albert Bond, the union’s executive secretary-treasurer, said the donations will top $400,000 by year’s end.

“We haven’t even made it to the Kansas City side yet to support those who supported us,” Bond said. “We’re trying to get people re-elected who stood with us on right to work.”

Those donations are in addition to a $300,000 check from the Eastern Missouri Laborers’ District Council to Attorney General Chris Koster, the only Democrat currently running for governor.

Much has been made since the right-to-work bill failed about the rift it created in the Missouri Republican Party. David Humphreys, a Joplin businessman and major GOP donor, pledged $500,000 to try to unseat Republican right-to-work opponents, and even some of the party’s leaders have openly discussed the idea of purging these lawmakers from the GOP.

Bond said unions won’t be able to compete dollar for dollar with the individual megadonors who support right to work. For example, a recent analysis of campaign finance data by The Star showed conservative businessman Rex Sinquefield has donated more than $22 million since 2010 — three times as much as the next biggest donor.

“But anyone who supported the working people of Missouri we will support, both monetarily but also by getting our members out to vote in the primaries and general election,” he said. “We don’t just write a check and walk away.”

Among the Republicans who have already received support from the carpenters union since September are Sen. Paul Wieland of Imperial and Reps. Anne Zerr of St. Charles, Ron Hicks of St. Peters and Dave Hinson of St. Clair.

Labor’s top priority, Bond said, will be the race for governor.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

Koster is an outspoken opponent of right-to-work laws. The five Republicans running for governor all support right-to-work legislation.

Both sides of the issue agree that a Republican governor, coupled with massive GOP majorities in the General Assembly, would make a right-to-work law a foregone conclusion.

But Bond said his union won’t forget about legislative races, specifically pointing to a pair of open Missouri Senate seats up for grabs next year.

“We want to see (Republican) Anne Zerr win her seat in St. Charles County,” Bond said, “and (Democrat) Stephen Webber win the seat in Columbia.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock