Labor unions

AFL-CIP Vice President Tefere Gebre speaks before a canvas against Missouri's photo voter ID amendment on Oct. 15, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio / St. Louis Public Radio

The national labor organization AFL-CIO is trying to take a more active role in issues affecting people of color, and has its eye on Missouri in particular this election.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre is in St. Louis this weekend for the fifth time in a year to talk about race, politics and the photo voter ID amendment on Missouri’s November ballot.

Jake Rosenfeld is a sociology professor at Washington University who studies labor movements in the U.S.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

In the mid-1950s, one out of every three people working in private enterprise in the United States was in a union. Today, only 6-7 percent of private sector workers still pay their dues. What changed over that period of time?

Rescue crews from the Monarch Fire Protection District work at the scene of a motor vehicle accident on May 3, 2016.
Monarch Fire Protection District | Facebook

Updated July 26, 2016 with appeals court ruling. — A Missouri appeals court says firefighters in the Monarch Fire Protection District can continue working under their old contract while negotiating a new one.

Tuesday's ruling upholds an "evergreen" clause that says the current contract, negotiated in 2013, remains in effect as long as good faith negotiations are going on between the board and the union. The district provides fire and ambulance service for parts of west St. Louis County.

Marchelle Vernell-Bettis, a trauma ICU nurse, wears a button during an informational picket for St. Louis University Hospital's nurses union.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Dozens of nurses gathered for a picket Monday morning to protest what they say are unsafe staffing levels at St. Louis University Hospital.

In advance of contract negotiations, the hospital’s chapter of National Nurses United conducted a staffing survey in 2015 and compared the data collected to staffing guidelines set by the hospital’s management. Overall, optimal staffing levels were not met on 58 percent of shifts in a 21-day period.


Regardless of whether Missouri becomes a battleground in the presidential contest, national labor leaders see the state as one of their top priorities this fall.

“Missouri has the most important governor’s race in the country going on right now,” said Richard Trumka, national president of the AFL-CIO, during an exclusive interview while he was in St. Louis over the weekend.

Washington University, Webster University, St. Charles Community College
St. Charles Community College, Flicker | Phil Roeder and Parick Giblin

Adjunct instructors at St. Charles Community College have joined the growing campus unionization movement.

By a vote of 108-61, the part-time instructors approved a proposal Thursday to join Service Employees International Union Local 1. The union also represents adjuncts at Washington University and St. Louis Community College.

c_ambler | Flickr

Members of public employee unions would have to provide written consent each year to have union fees deducted from paychecks, according to legislation passed by the Missouri House Thursday.

"This is historic," said state Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Charleston and the bill's sponsor. "I think it's great labor reform. ... It makes the union leader provide a service to the worker." Because people would have to affirm the deduction, the legislation has been called the paycheck protection act.

University of Illinois

In the 1950s and ‘60s, two labor leaders were influential in St. Louis through their involvement with a new kind of ideology: the “total persons” movement. Both were involved with Teamsters Local 688, forming a political alliance that would shape public services, civil rights and economic justice in the region. Their names were Harold Gibbons and Ernest Calloway. 

John Gaal, director of training for the Carpenter's Regional Council, gives Charles McElroy a certificate for completing the BUD pre-apprenticeship program on Wed. Nov. 4, 2015.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

In October 2014, Corey Harris was unemployed and looking for work. Now he makes $33 an hour as an ironworker apprentice in St. Louis. He made the transition from out-of-work retail manager to a career in construction through a pre-apprenticeship program called Building Union Diversity, or BUD.

Harris graduated from the pilot session of BUD just before Thanksgiving 2014. He was indentured as an ironworker apprentice in December and started getting steady work in March 2015.

Union members clap in appreciation at a rally against overriding 'right-to-work' on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 in Arnold, Mo.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Union members are making sure Missouri Republican lawmakers who voted against ‘right-to-work’ earlier this year know that they will have union support during the next election.

Missouri's chapter of the AFL-CIO held a rally and knocked on doors Saturday in Jefferson County ahead of the General Assembly’s veto session next Wednesday. That's when a vote to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a  "right-to-work" bill could be brought to the floor. The measure would bar making union dues a condition of employment.  Currently a business or union can require dues when a majority of workers have voted to organize.

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

The National Labor Relations Board is reversing a 30-year standard in how it determines joint-employment, the situation in which employees of one company, usually under contract to work for another company, are determined to be employees of both companies for purposes of collective bargaining.

Determinations of joint-employment usually flow from a finding by the NLRB that both companies exert sufficient control over the terms and conditions of employment for the workers in question.

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

The debate on ‘right to work’ was at the forefront of Missouri’s most recent legislative session. 

Mother Jones leading a Colorado march.
United Mine Workers of America (Courtesy Rosemary Feurer)

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the “grandmother of all agitators,” emerged as an activist in the late 19th century during the country’s rash of mine and railway strikes.

Fighting for organizations such as the United Mine Workers of America during strikes, Jones organized a transnational, multi-ethnic movement in support of a living wage, restrictions on child labor and public ownership of resources. She came to be nationally known as a dissident, a “dangerous citizen,” and an unapologetic Bolshevik—later in life, she owned up to all three.

369 members of the nurse's union at St. Louis University Hospital participated in the vote throughout the day Monday.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 10 a.m. June 16

Members of a nurse’s union at Saint Louis University Hospital voted against de-authorizing their union late Monday, a measure that would have effectively created a “right-to-work” policy within the hospital.  

The National Nurses United affiliate has about 650 members at SLU Hospital; only 140 voted in favor of de-authorization during three scheduled voting periods throughout the day. The measure needed 326 votes to pass, which would have made the payment of union dues optional.  

Local 36 sheet metal worker leader Ernie Angelbeck celebrates Gov. Jay Nixon's signature vetoing "right to work" at a news conference Thursday, June 4, 2015 in St. Louis.
Sarah Kellogg | St. Louis Public Radio

As expected, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed the “right-to-work” bill passed by state lawmakers just before their session ended last month.

The measure would stop employers from making union dues a condition of employment. As it stands now, unions and businesses can make that requirement if a majority of workers have voted to be in a union.

Gov. Jay Nixon speaks on Thursday at St. Louis Building Trades headquarters in south St. Louis. Labor unions agreed to work 24-hour shifts with no overtime to build a riverfront stadium in St. Louis.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

St. Louis labor unions are willing to work 24-hours-a-day without overtime to build a stadium on the city’s riverfront.

It’s a move that Gov. Jay Nixon said showcases how serious the city and state are about building a stadium aimed at keeping professional football in the Gateway City.

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

(Updated 1 p.m., Wed., Feb. 11)

By a voice vote, the Missouri House gave first round-approval Wednesday to a bill to bar construction unions and employers from requiring all employees to join a union and pay dues if a majority votes to organize. The bill, HB 582, is sponsored by Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-Berkeley.

----- Our earlier story

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Union membership in Missouri has dropped to its lowest rate in 26 years, according to new numbers released earlier this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Five of the original 12 participants in the first session of BUD listen intently to their instructor on the first day of training October 6, 2014.
Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

The first session of the Building Union Diversity, or BUD, initiative has finished. It’s a new effort to increase diversity in St. Louis building and construction unions. Program organizers say efforts are now underway to connect participants to employers.

The initiative is an eight-week pre-apprenticeship program organized by seven St. Louis unions, with funding and recruitment provided by the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment.

BJC Healthcare is in middle of a large construction project employing a lot of workers.
file photo | Provided by BJC HealthCare

In his 35 years as president of the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition for Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Lew Moye has seen a lot of initiatives to increase diversity in construction.

There have been agreements to include minorities in specific projects, such as building the Edward Jones Dome and expanding Interstate 64.

And there have been protests demanding greater minority representation, such as the 1999 shutdown of I-70, where Reverend Al Sharpton led minority contractors in a call for more state highway jobs.

Striking fast food workers in south St. Louis, MO.
Jess Jiang / St. Louis Public Radio

Many St. Louis fast food workers will walk off the job Thursday as part of a national call for a $15-an-hour wage and for union rights.

National organizers behind #StrikeFastFood say workers in more than 100 cities will strike, but St. Louis workers won’t be picketing here.

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio


In a quest to make job training count, the Obama administration is taking an interest in work-based apprenticeships. A St. Louis program is serving as a model for the administration.

The White House is highlighting about 40 programs across the country that are doing it right under the so-called Ready to Work Initiative. Only one such program in Missouri has made the list, the St. Louis Carpenter Union’s Mid-Apprenticeship Program.  

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
Wikipedia | government photo

In a case from Illinois that may not reach outside that state, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Pamela Harris, whose child’s disabilities required that he have around-the-clock care. She became his home health worker and objected to having to pay union dues that she thought reduced the amount of money she had to care for her child.

UFCW Local 655

Union workers at area Schnucks, Dierbergs, and Shop'n Save ratified a three-year contract with the supermarkets late Wednesday night. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 voted 1,641 to 662 to approve the contract at the Family Arena in St. Charles following a meeting of employees from the three companies.

The contract, which covers roughly 9,000 members working at 104 stores and pharmacies in the area, allows for a $0.60 wage increase over the life of the contract and includes no overall reduction in benefits.

Striking fast food workers in south St. Louis, MO.
Jess Jiang / St. Louis Public Radio

Fast food workers around the globe and in St. Louis went on strike Thursday. Workers, wearing black T-shirts that say "Show Me $15," rallied in front of a Wendy's in south St. Louis. The workers are asking for $15 an hour, about double what many workers currently receive. 

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

'Right-to-work' legislation in the Missouri House hit a snag Wednesday.

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Roughly a thousand labor union members crowded onto the south lawn of the state Capitol Wednesday to rally against legislation to turn Missouri into a "right-to-work" state.

Erin Williams / St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson Cowie is a professor in Cornell University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations teaching courses in labor relations, law and history.  His most recent book, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class served as inspiration for Rebecca Gilman’s play, “Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976” which is now playing at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.  While Cowie was in St.

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Republican lawmakers in Missouri are again trying to pass so-called "paycheck protection" legislation to  bar some unions from automatically withholding dues from employees.

File photo

When Republican Steve Tilley was speaker of the Missouri House, he flatly told fellow Republicans that he would not bring up any bills to make Missouri a "right-to-work" state.

At the time, Tilley said publicly that he viewed the issue as too divisive and potentially destructive to Missouri Republicans. He also discounted the arguments of "right-to-work" advocates who said that such a law would create jobs.

Now, the Missouri AFL-CIO has hired Tilley as a lobbyist to block this session’s "right-to-work" efforts of his successor, Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.