The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a significant legal blow to public-sector unions earlier this week with its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, an Illinois union-dues case. The ruling comes as Missouri voters gear up to decide Aug. 7 whether to pass a right-to-work referendum, Proposition A, that would impact collective bargaining in the private sector.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh went Behind the Headlines with a discussion about the state of organized labor in the bi-state region in light of the ruling. Joining him for the conversation was the president of the St. Louis Labor Council, Pat White, who described the court decision as “another attack on working men and women.”
“It’s certainly going to weaken certain unions,” White said. “The public-sector unions have been [under] attack not only statewide but nationally for a long time. We were actually expecting this verdict a few years ago before Justice [Antonin] Scalia passed away … so a lot of these bigger organizations have been preparing for this for the last couple years.”
He added that he’s hopeful the court’s decision will energize regional opposition to Prop A.
“They can actually do something in the next month and a half,” White said. “They can actually get out and have their voice heard on something that is not the same as the Janus decision but in the same ballpark.”
When Marsh asked him about the overall implications of weakened unions for the middle class as a whole, White emphasized the potential impact on issues like safety as well as pay.
He mentioned the local, fatal construction accident that occurred June 4 as an example of the sorts of scenarios that are more common in states where collective bargaining power has declined.
“If you talk about non-union workers, just look at the tragedy that happened in downtown St. Louis a couple weeks ago,” White said. “Those two poor gentlemen could have declined to do that work, and they would have been run off the job.
“Missouri is an at-will state, so you basically can be fired for anything other than discrimination, and if they would have refused to do that work, even under safety grounds, they would have been thrown off the job. We had three union members on that same job a couple weeks before that [who] refused to get in the bucket without being tied off.”
He said he’s working on “educating folks on the adverse things that have happened in states that go this way” ahead of the election.
“We’re asking people to pay attention to the elections and that they have consequences,” White added, “and really think about it before you go to the ballot box.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.