Missouri Republicans are taking a standoff between area labor unions and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker as proof that her role as state Democratic chair creates a conflict of interest.
Baker, elected chair in December, is locked in tense contract negotiations with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42, which represents assistant prosecutors in her office.
In turn, the union and the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO voted to halt support of the Missouri Democratic Party and won’t donate funds until Baker either steps down or “agrees to return to the table and negotiate in good faith and reaches a final agreement with IAFF.” Baker has said she never left the negotiating table, and in a statement issued Monday, she said she and the union had settled on continuing negotiations this week.
That pressure placed on Baker by the unions amounts to “pay to play politics,” Missouri GOP Executive Director Ray Bozarth said in a statement released Monday morning.
Bozarth said promising “anything of value to a public official with the intent to influence that official in some way...(is) a serious violation of both state and federal law.” He added that Baker and the unions should be reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Unions have made their position clear: they won’t give any more money to Baker’s political operation until she uses her official government role as prosecutor to benefit them,” Bozarth said. “And she’s declared she’s ready to keep the negotiations going.”
Baker said the GOP was “piling on” and “dishonestly accusing (her) of not being able to act with integrity.”
“I don’t know who the speaker for the GOP is; we’ve never met,” Baker said, “but if one does not carry out their duties with integrity, it is not surprising that they’d assume no one else can. As I always have, I will carry my duties as a public servant with my ethics and integrity intact and my new responsibilities as Missouri Democratic Party Chair.”
Baker said it was her “public servant duty to continue negotiations. The president of the Greater KC AFL-CIO has expressed his respect that we’re proceeding with negotiations and can focus on working together.”
Tim Dupin, president of IAFF Local 42, called the notion of an FBI investigation “absurd.”
“I don’t believe the union or Jean Peters Baker are doing anything that is — all we’re trying to do is get her to negotiate in good faith,” Dupin said.
Dupin said he didn’t believe chairing the party and serving as an elected prosecutor created a conflict of interest for Baker.
“My objection lies in her position on our contract only,” Dupin said.
Baker, who was appointed prosecutor in 2011 and elected in 2012 and 2016 as a Democrat, said in an interview Friday that the unions were trying to “squeeze every bit of political pressure they can” out of her.
“That misunderstands who I am,” she said.
IAFF and Baker started negotiating a new contract for her assistant prosecutors in 2017, but they’ve struggled to reach agreement on a raise and arbitration system proposed by the union.
The area AFL-CIO, a consortium of unions, said in a letter to Baker that she had “engaged in what Local 42 reports to be a serial conduct of bad faith bargaining and the commission of unfair labor practices.”
Republicans and watch dog groups voiced concern in December about Baker’s ability to make impartial legal decisions while engaging at the highest levels of Missouri politics.
Baker said then she would not accept a salary as chair of the party and said there is an established process for referring cases to the Missouri Attorney General’s office. But negotiating with the union that represents part of her staff is a different issue.