Missouri’s war over right-to-work has been a David versus Goliath struggle, with workers beset by special interests who want to keep taking money out of their pockets.
Unions won the latest battle Wednesday when Missouri Republicans failed to muster the necessary two-thirds majority to override Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a right-to-work bill passed in May.
In every right-to-work debate, Teamsters union president James P. Hoffa and his fellow labor bosses try to cast themselves as the underdogs. But Hoffa has it backwards.
Despite decades of waning union influence, the Davids in this story are the workers Hoffa can still squeeze for mandatory union fees in Missouri and the other 24 states without right-to-work laws.
Teamsters headquarters in Washington, D.C., reported 5,300 “agency fee payers” to the Department of Labor in 2014 — 5,300 workers who opted out of joining the Teamsters and were forced to pay the union to keep their jobs.
Collecting forced fees from nonmembers frees up member dues for union bosses to spend on politics, organizing and their own paychecks, even though agency fees can’t legally be spent on anything except representation costs.
This is the simplest explanation for why unions hate right-to-work laws, which make agency fees illegal. It’s an explanation labor bosses evade as best they can, because taking hefty salaries from workers’ paychecks is inconsistent with unions’ message of solidarity.
The Teamsters union has fought right-to-work in Missouri to make sure “big business” doesn’t “grow even more wealthy and powerful at the people’s expense,” Hoffa wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed.
At Teamsters headquarters, Hoffa was paid a total of $379,411 last year — and he was just one of 10 officers and employees who received more than $200,000 from the union.
When you know what Hoffa and other labor officials are paid, labor boss criticism of wealthy CEOs sounds an awful lot like projection.
“These anti-union, anti-worker bastards are not only crazy, they’re mean,” exclaimed Laborers’ International Union of North America president Terry O’Sullivan — who was paid $670,403 in 2014 — during a July 2014 rant against Charles and David Koch.
A Watchdog investigation found that, excluding pro sports unions, 497 U.S. labor union officers and employees were paid more than $250,000 in 2014.
International Union of Operating Engineers headquarters in Washington, D.C., took agency fees from 7,776 non-members and paid 22 officers and employees more than $200,000 each. IUOE president James Callahan was paid $488,377.
Richard Trumka, president of union coalition AFL-CIO and a tireless critic of CEO salaries, was paid $322,131 last year.
The average private-sector CEO is paid $216,100, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Unlike union bosses, CEOs are responsible for the profits that fund workers’ paychecks.
And unlike union bosses, CEOs aren’t paid with money taken from workers’ paychecks.
Even if it’s not in a company’s best long-term interests, there’s nothing hypocritical about a CEO paying employees what their skills command while at the same time taking home as many millions per year as shareholders will tolerate.
But when a Hoffa who attacks “big business” in fiery screeds about worker solidarity takes 10 times the average union member’s income for himself and spends millions more defending his ability to take forced dues – that’s another matter.
This is why labor bosses insist right-to-work leaves workers helpless to demand fair wages, good benefits and safe working conditions by taking away their ability to unionize.
Right-to-work laws “make it harder for workers to protect their wages and job security, while at the same time taking their voice on the job away,” Hoffa wrote at Huffington Post, calling right-to-work a “repeal of workers’ rights.”
Hoffa’s is a frightening message, provided the audience doesn’t know right-to-work simply ends forced union fees and does nothing to stop workers from forming, joining or collectively bargaining through labor unions.
It’s a message that worked in Missouri this summer, with Teamsters front group Preserve Middle Class Missouri, Carpenters union front Protect Missouri Families and AFL-CIO front We Are Missouri helping labor bosses give their talking points an air of populism.
Unions convinced some lawmakers right-to-work was political suicide, but Missouri right-to-work opponents are more likely to suffer at the ballot box next year. Nixon is term-limited, and Republicans have signaled right-to-work will be a priority in the 2016 governor’s race.
In May, respondents to a Missouri Freedom Alliance poll of more than 10,000 likely voters expressed support for right-to-work by a 54 percent to 35 percent margin. Republicans in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin have all increased their legislative majorities since implementing right-to-work in their respective states.