Guest Commentary

Jake Hummel: Sustain veto to stand with Missouri workers

Jake Hummel
Jake Hummel

This Wednesday, legislators from across Missouri will convene in Jefferson City for the annual veto session. Every member of the General Assembly, including me, will enter the state Capitol, above which our state flag flies. On our flag is the official motto of the state of Missouri: “Salus populi suprema lex esto.” Translated from Latin, it says, “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”

That means our job is to put the well being of the people of Missouri first. But when we enter the Capitol, we will be faced with a critical vote: Whether to uphold Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a misguided right-to-work bill that puts the wishes of out-of-state millionaires before the needs of the people of Missouri.

I will vote to sustain the veto of right to work and so should every other member of the General Assembly who took the oath of office beneath our flag. At a time of increasing income inequality and economic uncertainty, we will not be putting the welfare of our people first if we enact legislation designed for the sole purpose of taking away workers’ rights.

Why is right to work so wrong for Missouri? Quite simply, states with right-to-work laws have lower wages, higher poverty and uninsured rates, less safe workplaces, and weaker education.

The average worker in states with right-to-work laws makes $5,971 (12.2 percent) less annually than workers in states without right to work. In states with right-to-work laws, 25.9 percent of jobs are in low-wage occupations, compared with 18.0 percent of jobs in other states. Twelve of the 14 states with the worst pay gap between men and women are right-to-work states.

States with right-to-work laws spend $3,392 less per pupil on elementary and secondary education than other states, and students are less likely to be performing at their appropriate grade level in math and reading. People in states with right-to-work laws are more likely to be uninsured (16.8 percent, compared with 13.1 percent overall; among children, it’s 10.8 percent vs. 7.5 percent). And in right-to-work states, the workplace death rate is more than 50 percent higher.

The next time you hear a politician get on the stump and wax nostalgic about the greatness of our state and country, ask yourself: “Do I envision a place where work pays less, and is more dangerous? Do I envision a place where benefits are cut for workers, and bonuses are increased for out-of-state corporate owners?”

Because that’s what you’ll see if the General Assembly overrides Gov. Nixon’s veto and makes right-to-work the law in our state.

But beyond the practical impacts of lower wages, reduced investments in education, higher rates of uninsured, and less safe workplaces, this issue really is about who we are as a state. Whose side are we on?

The members of the General Assembly pushing right-to-work have decided that the contributions from out-of-state millionaires and corporate interests are more important than the rights of working women and men. They have decided that the very idea of work is something with diminished value; that women and men coming together at the workplace to have a say in how they are treated as employees matters far less than the desires of some CEOs gathered in a boardroom somewhere to make their already bulging wallets just a little bit fatter.

When I walk into the Capitol to cast my vote on right to work, I will vote to sustain Gov. Nixon’s veto and stop the efforts of wealthy out-of-state, anti-worker groups to impose their beliefs on Missouri. Because I believe in the words on our state’s flag: Salus populi suprema lex esto.

Rep. Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat, is the House minority floor leader and secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO.