Labor unions in the St. Joseph area already are working on familiar issues they plan to either support or oppose during what promises to be a very contentious 2020 election cycle.
Union leaders in the city are once again professing their relevance for the economy and politics, despite criticism from pro-business groups that organized labor has run its course as a meaningful player when it comes to worker rights.
Dereck Heineman, business manager for Local Union No. 45 Plumbers & Pipefitters, told News-Press NOW his 160 members intend to spend time getting to know the candidates in next year’s local races while carefully examining their voting records.
“That’s where boots on the ground matters,” Heineman said of local races.
The state of the economy, labor rights and health care will all assume positions as the most vital issues for the union in 2020, according to Heineman.
“Our main goal is to protect workers’ rights, and protect our members’ rights,” he said. “I think it’s going to be extremely difficult. There’s so much partisan politics.”
Heineman decried talk from labor’s opponents that claim unions are no longer relevant in the national conversation.
“If unions don’t matter anymore, why are they so against us?” he asked.
Some opponents have operated in ways that drive down employee wages and the middle class, he added.
“That’s what we fight for,” said Heineman.
Another area union leader said his organization will continue to fend off attempts to resurrect a right-to-work law in Missouri and thwart paycheck deception practices. Labor officials contend that paycheck deception laws take away the right of union members and associations to use payroll deduction for payment of union dues, association dues or voluntary contributions.
“The people spoke, and they want to get the money out of politics,” said Mike Veale, president of the Northwest Missouri Central Labor Council. “And they’re not listening to the voters. ... Everything that the people voted on, they’re trying to sidestep that.”
Right-to-work, under which employees would not be required to join a labor union as a condition of their job, failed in a 2018 statewide vote, and despite prior approval by the Missouri General Assembly. Veale said unions believe there will be a new effort to bring right-to-work to Missouri, and think proponents’ war chests are deep for funding another round.
“Unfortunately, unions don’t have the money that we used to,” Veale said.
He contends the arguments that unions are supposedly irrelevant have a certain origin. The behind-the-scenes motivation is the ultimate destruction of unions by tactics that include convincing members that their interests and wishes should align with those of management, he said.
“It’s all about who can buy their voice,” said Veale. “They’re taking away our voice to speak what’s best for members, or for the working middle class. ... Unions don’t want to destroy corporations.”
Preparing for an election year will be a challenge, the union leaders admit, and will involve informing the rank and file that the way they earn a living is among the most important issues to grasp as they head to the polls.
“That’s one of our biggest problems: educating our members,” he added. “That’s our big challenge.”
The economy is another salient matter for labor, and Veale stated the current spending climate is due in part to improved wages that unions lobbied for across the U.S. A discussion of such issues by both sides would help bring a consensus to economic strategy, he continued.
“I believe we can create an economy that works for all,” Veale said. “We should make it our economy that works for everybody, not an economy that just works for the few.”