On Tuesday, negotiators from Patriot Coal walked out of talks with the Mine Workers (UMWA), leaving thousands of retirees in danger of losing their health care. The company also canceled talks scheduled through next week, UMWA reports via press release. UMWA President Cecil Roberts reported that the company and the union were only about $30 million to $35 million apart. Meanwhile, hundreds of high-paid executives at the company will be receiving about $25 million in bonuses.
We are very disappointed by this action. We had made significant progress toward reaching an agreement that provided a workable alternative to the severe terms Patriot asked for last spring and that were approved by the bankruptcy court in St. Louis. The union had agreed to more than $400 million in savings for the company over the life of the current contract, which gives them the money they say they need to survive. But that still wasn’t enough for them.
UMWA said the company is moving ahead with the implementation of terms and conditions approved by a judge, which means that Patriot will cut off the current health care system for more than 23,000 retirees, their dependents and surviving spouses. The old system will be replaced with a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association that only has guaranteed funding of $15 million, plus a royalty payment of 20 cents per ton of coal produced, which is projected to raise another $5 million a year. UMWA also will be given 35% ownership in Patriot Coal, which they can sell after the value of the company—that’s in bankruptcy—is established. Current retiree health care costs are about $5 million a month.
Patriot also will be able to deny all retiree health care benefits to 40% of currently active workers who have already worked enough years to earn those benefits. The company also can reduce pay, benefits and paid time off for active workers.
Roberts said UMWA will not give up the fight to make sure Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the companies that the UMWA argues set Patriot up specifically to fail to dump employee health care costs, take responsibility:
We are not letting them off the hook. We are airing a new round of television spots that feature the voices of the victims of their scheme. Thousands of us will be back in front of Peabody’s offices next week, and more events are planned in St. Louis and throughout the coalfields in the coming months. No matter what the events of the next few weeks may bring, this struggle is a long, long way from being over.
The Speaker is making sure his colleagues in the legislature know that he intends to make banning fair bargains – also known as “right to work” – a priority in 2014. This past session, despite the efforts of some extremist legislators, no such bill made it to the floor.
But it’s not as if this session didn’t have its share of attacks on workers’ rights. After a drawn-out fight, both the Missouri House and Senate passed paycheck deception and changes to prevailing wage legislation. Both bills weaken the ability of workers to advocate for better wages and benefits at the workplace.
Working America, along with allies like the Missouri AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Jobs with Justice, and Progress Missouri, mobilized in opposition to these attacks. Hundreds of emails and calls flooded Jefferson City, with Missourians asking why the legislature had launched an assault on workers’ rights instead of focusing on creating jobs. And in each vote held on anti-worker bills, more and more Republicans broke with Speaker Jones.
Gov. Jay Nixon has said he opposes so-called “right to work” and would presumably veto it if it arrived on his desk. Speaker Jones and his corporate-backed allies are looking into other options, which could include pushing the issue to a 2014 referendum. Missouri voters rejected “right to work” when it came to the ballot in 1978.
Another option being pursued by Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) would be to pass fair bargaining bans in each Missouri county, one by one. She is researching this option “with her personal lawyer.”
No matter how it comes, Missouri extremists will be switching up the language they use. They believe “freedom to work” will work better than “right to work.”
Rehder said she’s made national contacts and done a significant amount of research into “freedom to work,” which she said is an alternative and suggested phrase for “right to work.”
“’Right to work’ has been beat up on so much,” she explained.
No matter what you call it, facts are facts. In states where fair bargaining bans – or “right to work” or “freedom to work” laws – have been passed, wages are lower, fewer people have health insurance, poverty is higher, less money is spent on education, and more workers suffer workplace injuries and fatalities.
Democratic Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) doesn’t think that this issue will fly in Missouri, this year or the next:
“I think our state has shown that blue collar, working class folks support issues that help blue collar, working class folks,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think “right to work” shows that support for those workers. “The fact that those [labor reform bills] can gain the majority of the votes in the chamber is concerning in and of itself.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its corporate backers and extremist Missouri lawmakers may have won the first round in their drive to silence working people with a paycheck deception bill, when the House gave it final approval (86-69) earlier this week.
But thanks to a strong mobilization by Missouri working families and their unions and allies, the close vote—that included several Republicans who voted against the bill—means that Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) expected veto cannot be overridden. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to override.
Paycheck deception laws, like the one proposed in Missouri, create burdensome restrictions that interfere with union members’ rights to participate in the political and legislative process. These laws also weaken the ability of working people to advance working-family issues such as legislation that would create jobs and stop job outsourcing.
After the bill’s passage, Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, told reporters:
This bill is all politics. Not one Missouri worker testified in favor of S.B. 29, and that’s because this bill has nothing to do with helping working people. Public workers in this state have faced an uphill fight for collective bargaining rights and are 50 in the nation in pay.
In fact, dozens of Show-Me State workers created a Tumblr blog, Working Voices, and recorded video messages speaking out against paycheck deception. Union, community and faith activists were a major presence at the state Capitol in Jefferson City during hearings and votes and helped shine a spotlight on the anti-workers’ legislation through actions in several cities and towns.
Bradley Harmon, the president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6355, said:
This law is about protecting right-wing extremists and their corporate buddies, not about protecting anyone’s paycheck. That’s why we call it ‘paycheck deception.’
A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that two Missouri paycheck deception bills are not necessary to protect workers and they would limit the free speech and political spending of unions and organized workers, while allowing unlimited corporate spending on political causes.
Both federal and state laws already protect the political rights of private- and public-sector employees who join or are represented by unions. Paycheck deception supporters say their new bills are necessary to stop workers from being forced to pay to support a political cause they oppose, but current law already does that. S.B. 29 and H.B. 64, the bills in question, are not designed to enhance individual rights but instead make it harder for employees to authorize payroll deductions for union use—even if the uses are not political. And, the bills are designed to foster conflicts between workers and unions. Not surprisingly, the bills, supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Legislative Exchange Council, would do nothing to change the current legal prerogatives of corporations and their lobbyists to freely spend on politics without complying with any particular process whatsoever.
From the EPI report:
“These ‘paycheck protection’ proposals reflect corporate lobbies’ unabashed attempts to enact a broad corporate economic agenda by crippling the ability of workers to participate in the political process,” said Gordon Lafer of the EPI. “Because the labor movement is the only vehicle through which millions of working Americans collectively pool sufficient resources—in the form of both financial contributions and organized volunteer efforts—to serve as an effective political counterweight to this agenda, eliminating union political activity promises to leave the corporate lobbies with an increasingly free hand to shape economic policy at the expense of workers.”
Missouri’s working families are speaking out about a paycheck deception bill that is moving through the state legislature. We Are Missouri launched a new Tumblr blog, Working Voices, that showcases personal messages from Missouri working families to their elected representatives, asking them to reject the anti-worker agenda of the state legislature. In this year’s session, Republicans in the legislature have pursued an agenda that includes paycheck deception, attacks on prevailing wage laws, and “right to work” for less proposals that are part of what We Are Missouri describes as a larger national plan to assault the rights of workers.
The site includes a wide variety of workers from around the state who have recorded video statements rejecting these type of legislative attacks, rather than addressing the real problems Missourians face.
Listen to teachers and utility, grocery store and factory workers (and more) talk about how paycheck deception will hurt working people.
Despite testimony overwhelmingly opposing the bill and universal opposition from the committee’s Democrats, the Missouri legislature’s House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee passed S.B. 29, a paycheck deception bill, which is now headed to the House floor. Missouri working families went door to door last week to tell their neighbors about the problems with the bill, held numerous public rallies in opposition and flooded the Capitol with thousands of emails, letters and phone calls telling legislators to oppose the bill, which shut state workers out of the political conversation in Missouri.
We Are Missouri reports:
‘This bill is all politics,’ said Mike Louis, Missouri AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer. ‘Not one Missouri worker has testified in favor of S.B. 29, and that’s because this bill has nothing to do with helping working people. Public workers in this state have faced an uphill fight for collective bargaining rights and are 50th in the nation in pay. It is shameful that instead of correcting the very real problems faced by the workers who care for our veterans, teach and protect children at risk from abuse and neglect, and serve so many other critical roles—politicians chose to again reward special interests on the backs of our everyday heroes.’
Out-of-state interests have pushed hard for the bill to pass, which doesn’t sit right with autoworker Stan Stevenson:
We vote for legislators and expect them to work for us, not CEOs and special interest groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity. I know they can do better—yesterday, the House voted to pass a Bring Jobs Home bill that would reward companies for bringing good jobs back to Missouri. S.B. 29 does the opposite—it is payback for the same corporations that have been shipping our jobs overseas and dodging their taxes.
We Are Missouri is asking state residents to call their state representatives and tell them to reject the paycheck deception bill at 1-888-907-9711.
Since 2010, right-wing governors and legislators have attacked workers’ rights across the Midwest. These attacks have come in different forms: from stripping public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin to an all-out ban on fair share contracts in Michigan and Indiana.
In Missouri, extremist legislators and their corporate backers are taking a different tactic. They are pushing paycheck deception bills, which limit how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process.
Proponents of paycheck deception are counting on the public to be uninformed (or misinformed) about what these bills actually do. So here are 10 things you should know about paycheck deception:
Paycheck deception laws create unfair regulations. These laws require labor organizations to go through burdensome bureaucratic hoops in order to deduct dues from members’ paychecks and to use that money for political advocacy. No other corporation, CEO, or other organization has similar restrictions. The sole intent is to force the union to spend more resources collecting dues so that they have less ability to advocate for workers at workplaces and in politics.
Paycheck deception laws limit free speech. These laws apply rules to union members that don’t apply to any other organization. A business that belongs to a Chamber of Commerce, for instance, can’t opt-out of paying annual dues and still belong to the Chamber. Similarly, a shareholder in a corporation has absolutely no say in how that corporation spends money in politics. Essentially, paycheck deception laws say that the government has more say in how union workers spend their money than the workers themselves.
Paycheck deception laws have, and have always had, one purpose: attack unions. California school voucher activists who wanted to weaken the local teachers’ union first used paycheck deception as a tactic in 1998. These laws have always been about weakening unions and those who speak up for workers. They have never been about protecting workers or giving workers a “choice.”
Proponents call them “paycheck protection” laws. The people who push these laws want you to think these laws protect workers, when in fact they just protect the CEOs and special interests that don’t want any opposition from organized labor. The “protection” they are implying already exists, as union members already collectively decide how their money is spent. “Their transparent motive is not to protect workers, but to silence them by diminishing their collective voice,” wrote Joshua Rosencranz of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Paycheck protection laws are not “campaign finance reform.” Supporters of these laws often try to sell them as campaign finance reform. If anything, by forcing unions to follow one set of rules while ignoring corporations, these laws tilt the political playing field further toward corporate interests.
Union members already have a choice. No worker in the United States can be forced to join a union. Period. Furthermore, unions already have a process by which members can opt-out of having their dues used for political activity. As democratic organizations, union members already collectively decide how their dues money is spent – and like our elections, majority rules.
Union members are not calling for these laws. While arguing for paycheck deception in Missouri, legislators claimed they had talked to union workers who felt coerced by the current deduction process, but failed to produce them. No union workers testified in favor of the Missouri bill. In fact, a recent Hart research poll found that 75 percent of union members want their deductions to be used to advocate for the middle class in the political arena.
Paycheck deception laws hurt donations to nonprofits. By firing a broadside attack at unions, paycheck deception laws restrict all kinds of paycheck deductions: direct deposit, 401(k), and charitable deductions. Many union members voluntarily donate to organizations like the United Way through paycheck deductions – these laws would make that process more difficult.
Paycheck deception laws are often found unconstitutional. In Alabama, Arizona, and Washington, paycheck deception laws were ruled unconstitutional by state Supreme Courts. The laws frequently violate the First Amendment – since union workers already have the choice to opt-out of their unions’ political activity. If Missouri passes this law, they will have to waste more taxpayer money defending it at court – they’ll probably lose.
Politicians admit that paycheck deception laws are a stepping stone to further union restrictions.Missouri Speaker Tim Jones admitted that while “there are other ways to skin a cat” to limit union workers’ political power, paycheck deception “a way to get to the ultimate goal of right to work.” Patrick Werner of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity also called paycheck deception a “first step” to making Missouri a “right to work state.”
A study by the University of Missouri makes it abundantly clear that opting into Medicaid expansion would be positive for the Show Me State’s economy, including the creation of more than 24,000 jobs in 2014 alone.
Let’s quickly review: Because of the Supreme Court decision last summer, states can choose to not participate in the Medicaid expansion found in the Affordable Care Act, which makes Americans at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid and provides the billions in federal dollars needed to insure them. Many leaders of both parties have opted in; some, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, still stubbornly refuse.
In Missouri, the expansion would open up eligibility to 159,260 additional Missourians in 2014 alone. Because currently there are so many in Missouri without health insurance – roughly 15 percent of the population, or as many as 900,000 people – we are currently seeing reduced productivity, increased cost to public programs, increased private insurance premiums, and increased stress on emergency programs (uninsured folks using the ER as their health care).
But factor in Medicaid expansion, allowing at least a chunk of that 900,000 to afford insurance for the first time, and those problems start to inch down. In addition, with the federal money rolling in to pay for the expansion, health care companies will immediately need personnel. The University of Missouri study estimates that in 2014, we’d see 5,094 new jobs in nursing and care, 3,208 news jobs in retail, 2,905 new jobs at private hospitals, 2,108 new jobs in home care, and a host of other areas. They estimate a total of 24,008 Missouri jobs created in 2014.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon announced late last year that Missouri would be participating, calling it “the best thing to do for our state.” With the expected employment windfall, and newfound medical security for thousands of Missourians, it’s a no-brainer, right?
Some extremist members of the Republican-controlled legislature, unfortunately, have other ideas.
Let’s put aside the morally bankrupt idea of kicking thousands of children of low-income parents off their health insurance. Even if Rep. Barnes’ bill went into law, under the guidelines set forth in the Affordable Care Act, Missouri probably still wouldn’t be eligible for the federal funds they need to do any of this in the first place, unless the Obama Administration made an exception.
So in other words, Rep. Barnes’ “alternative” proposal is not an alternative at all – it’s a roundabout way of scuttling Medicaid expansion completely.
Let’s not be fooled by Barnes’ political theater. Medicaid expansion does not have to be a partisan issue, as Republican Govs. Christie, Martinez, McDonnell, Kasich, and Scott have shown. This is about allowing the most vulnerable among us to have the medical security we all deserve – not to mention putting thousands of Missourians back to work.
Working America has endorsed the following candidates and ballot initiatives in the 2012 election. These endorsements do not cover all the candidates and ballot issues in which we have a stake, but they all reflect the passion of our members and the values of our organization.
On November 6, please consider the following as you go to vote:
In Missouri, working families are lucky to have strong, independent-minded senator like Claire McCaskill. A frequent critic (and target!) of both political parties, McCaskill consistently and unapologetically holds what is best for Missouri above partisanship, popularity, and political expediency.
When the economic crisis hit and auto companies were on the brink of collapse, McCaskill worked with her colleagues and the Obama Administration to make crucial investments in the American auto industry. While not the most popular thing to do at the time, her persistence is paying off: Ford and General Motors have announced new investments of more than $1.4 billion in Missouri factories, creating thousands of jobs and revitalizing communities. She also voted to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and create tax incentives for moving offshore production back to the United States.
Senator McCaskill recognized the situation with the auto industry as one where government had to take bold, swift action. But she is also an enemy of waste, inefficiency, and corruption. She fought against the famous “no-bid contracts” in Afghanistan and Iraq, following in the footsteps of her predecessor Harry Truman. She wants to end the practice of “secret holds” that senators use to block nominations to the court and agencies. In general, she has sought to make the U.S. Senate operate with more transparency and common sense, from her leadership on the Contracting Oversight Subcommittee right down to her personal Twitter coverage of Senate proceedings.
This year’s Senate race in Missouri has been marred by the extremism of Republican challenger Todd Akin and the injection of enormous amounts of untraceable outside money. Even before Todd Akin clinched his party’s nomination, as of July, outside groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS had spent nearly $13 million on attack ads.
As for Akin himself, his radical beliefs extend well beyond his infamous comments about rape: he has said that Medicare is unconstitutional, that he “doesn’t like” Social Security, that the minimum wage should be abolished, and that student loans are “a stage 3 cancer.” Akin sat on the committee that produced Paul Ryan’s budget, which McCaskill says would “pull the rug out from under Missouri’s seniors in order to reward corporations and the richest Americans.”
As concerning as his agenda is Akin’s status as a policy lightweight – at a time where Missouri needs confidence in its leaders. “He appears to have only the vaguest idea of what’s contained in some of the bills he’s voted for…” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board, “You ask him about the so-called “fiscal cliff” that looms at year’s end, when a perfect storm of economic catastrophe awaits, and he says he’s not up to speed on the details of economic policy.”
McCaskill is independent, hardworking, and capable of making tough and complex decisions based on facts. Her opponent, even apart from the comments that made him famous, is none of those things. We urge a vote for Claire McCaskill for U.S. Senate. Plan your vote now.