When it comes to organized labor’s campaign to keep Missouri workers tied to unions, it’s not enough to look for the union label.
To keep state lawmakers from overriding Gov. Jay Nixon’s June veto of a right-to-work bill, unions are broadcasting their message through campaign groups that don’t advertise their union backing.
Preserve Middle Class America, which calls itself “a grassroots coalition of citizens and organizations,” is campaigning against right-to-work as “Preserve Middle Class Missouri.” It’s run by the Teamsters union.
Preserve Middle Class America’s campaign materials don’t mention the Teamsters, but the nonprofit lists Teamsters Local 245 headquarters as its mailing address in a filing with the Missouri secretary of state.
Jim Kabell, president of the Missouri-Kansas-Nebraska Conference of Teamsters, is the primary contact on Preserve Middle Class America’s state registration form.
Since 2012, union payments to Preserve Middle Class America totaling nearly $1.4 million have been sent to two addresses — the offices of Teamsters Local 245 and Teamsters Local 41.
United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655 has paid Preserve Middle Class America $300,000 since 2013. Teamsters National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., has donated $250,000.
Preserve Middle Class America, Teamsters Local 245, Teamsters Local 41 and UFCW Local 655 all failed to respond to questions from Watchdog.
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We Are Missouri, “a diverse coalition of workers, students, seniors and their families,” is even more secretive about the extent of its union ties.
Unlike Preserve Middle Class America, We Are Missouri isn’t registered as a business with the Missouri secretary of state’s office. We Are Missouri did not respond to questions from Watchdog.
We Are Missouri’s website lists no union affiliation, no leaders’ names and no mailing address. The only publicly available contact info for We Are Missouri is an email address on the organization’s Facebook page.
But there are hints about its union backing. In a 2013 news story, Missouri AFL-CIO president Hugh McVey was quoted as one of several spokespeople for We Are Missouri.
AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., reported $45,861 in payments to We Are Missouri for “state legislative advocacy” in 2012. That money was sent to the Missouri AFL-CIO’s mailing address.
The Missouri AFL-CIO did not respond to repeated Watchdog inquiries about who is staffing We Are Missouri’s campaign against right-to-work.
The Committee to Protect MO Families — another coalition fighting right-to-work — lists dozens of unions among its hundreds of supporters, and is run by Carpenters’ District Council of St. Louis & Vicinity.
By downplaying or hiding their union ties, We Are Missouri, Preserve Middle Class America and Protect MO Families allow unions to create the impression of sweeping opposition to right-to-work.
While the Missouri AFL-CIO, Teamsters locals, UFCW Local 655 and other unions openly campaign against right-to-work, they devote campaign resources to supposedly independent groups, too.
Union-funded activist groups like Progress Missouri and Missouri Jobs with Justice help the unions sway legislators against a law that would simply let workers choose whether to pay a union.
But public opinion is on the side of individual worker choice, Ryan Johnson, president of the conservative Missouri Alliance for Freedom, told Watchdog.
A poll of more than 10,000 likely voters conducted for Missouri Alliance for Freedom this spring found 54 percent of Missourians support right-to-work.
“Given the lay of the land, I find the nature of the opposition to be duplicitous and dishonest,” Johnson said in an email. “They are well funded and highly organized but do not represent the average union household in the state.”
“If they can bully a state representative into voting against right-to-work, they will. Conversely, if they think a charm offensive will work, they will do that,” Johnson continued. “In short, they will do anything and say anything to accomplish their goal of extinguishing the spread of worker freedom.”