Just days after his swearing in, new Gov. Mike Parson addressed the General Assembly with a list of priorities and a pledge to move Missouri in the right direction by way of re-commitment and a fresh start.
This optimism quickly disintegrated as he began to openly show his support for eroding the rights of working Missourians across the state.
One of the initiatives Parson praised is the so-called “paycheck protection” measure, which places onerous annual reporting requirements on public employee unions and their officers, except for labor organizations representing public safety employees and Department of Corrections employees. It also requires the unions to be recertified every three years by a vote of more than 50 percent of all members of the bargaining unit. Parson cited these anti-worker proposals as “government union reform” and “achievements.”
The governor has signed into law a measure that would significantly decrease workers’ wages by gutting Missouri’s prevailing wage law. This law simply mandated that local units of government require contractors and subcontractors working on public works construction projects to pay their workers the prevailing wage for that craft (the weighted average for the job title) in the locality where the work is performed.
The bill the governor signed into law exempts construction projects from this requirement if the estimated cost or accepted bid is $75,000 or less. It also exempts projects with an estimated cost or accepted bid of $10,000 or less from even requiring competitive bids.
Additionally, it allows employers to use entry-level workers and federally-registered apprentices for on-the-job training, and only pay them 50 percent of the prevailing wage for apprentice journeymen, as long as the combined total of such workers does not exceed the number of journeymen in any craft.
Further, it allows contractors and subcontractors to avoid paying the prevailing wage for occupations in localities where fewer than 1,000 reportable work hours occurred in the preceding year. In such cases, employees in those crafts can be paid the lower “public works contracting minimum wage,” which is 120 percent of the average hourly wage in a locality.
These attacks on workers are part of an ongoing campaign by Republican leaders to allow the interests and desires of right-wing millionaires and large corporations to reign supreme at the expense of hardworking Missourians. The entire state will suffer as a result.
Union jobs generally set the bar for pay and benefits for all workers in the same job categories, since non-unionized companies feel pressure to compete to attract and retain quality employees. Weaker unions result in lower wages and fewer benefits, which spread through the entire community. That means less disposable income to spend at local businesses. The entire community suffers. It also means less tax revenue. That’s less money for good schools and other essential government services.
Gutting Missouri’s prevailing wage law will open the door to unscrupulous fly-by-night non-union contractors, who will hire anyone willing to work under unsafe conditions for low wages and few if any benefits, instead of skilled workers who have completed union apprenticeship programs. The result will be haphazard construction that may be cheaper initially, but will require continued maintenance just to meet minimum performance standards. This costs taxpayers way more in the long run.
Don’t skilled Missouri workers deserve to earn a livable wage to support their families? Don’t they and their families deserve adequate health care coverage? Don’t they deserve more than just living paycheck to paycheck?
It is extremely disappointing to know that so many members of the majority party in the General Assembly fail time and again to act in the best interests of those they were elected to represent. It’s even more disheartening to know that our top elected official agrees with these shortsighted anti-worker proposals. Missourians deserve better.
DaRon McGee represents south Kansas City in the Missouri House of Representatives.