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National labor leader says the nation's marquee contest for governor is in Missouri

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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.

Trumka said Missouri is among six targeted states for the labor movement, but the only one with a contest for governor. The other states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada and Florida – have key Senate races.

While in St. Louis for three days, Trumka met with hundreds of labor activists and top elected officials, many of them attending a rally Saturday morning at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, 2319 Chouteau Avenue.

Trumka also met with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, the likely Democratic nominee for governor. A former Republican, Koster is now a labor favorite, with many of his largest donations coming from unions.

Koster is seen as labor’s best hope to block passage of “right to work,’’ a proposal to bar unions from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues or fees.

All four of Missouri’s Republican candidates for governor – Catherine Hanaway, Eric Greitens, John Brunner and Peter Kinder – have emphasized their support for “right to work’’ and have promised to sign such a measure into law if they are elected governor.

“Right to work” supporters say the provision would attract more businesses to the state, and give workers more freedom.

Trumka took note of the GOP’s well-heeled donors, notably Joplin businessman David Humphreys and financier Rex Sinquefield, who are bankrolling some of the Republican candidates. Humphreys has made “right to work’’ one of his top issues.

“Who do you think it benefits? It benefits them,’’ Trumka said. “They think they can use their millions to continue to perpetuate rules that benefit them and hurt working people.”

Trumka also praised Jason Kander, now Missouri secretary of state, who is the party's presumptive nominee for the U.S. Senate this fall. He'll face Republican incumbent Roy Blunt, who Trumka contended was among the GOP "insiders'' in Congress who have hurt the nation's economy, and have backed policies hurting workers and military veterans.

Trumka said that the national unions’ focus on Missouri was aimed, in part, at countering the state’s Republican leaders, who he said are taking Missouri in the wrong direction.

This fall’s elections, he said, could well determine “whether (Missouri) will continue to veer toward the rich and those rich donors who want to make more at the expense of working people, or whether working people will start to write the rules so that we can create a shared prosperity economy that benefits everyone.”

Trumka emphasized that labor isn’t backing just Democrats. He cited a number of area Republican legislators who oppose “right to work’’ – particularly those representing districts in St. Charles and Jefferson counties – and said unions plan to help defend them in the Aug. 2 primary against GOP rivals backed by Humphreys and other pro-right-to-work donors.

Labor leaders seek to curb Trump's appeal with some union workers

Trumka also is campaigning hard for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and has been an outspoken opponent of the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump.

Trumka will be a Pennsylvania delegate at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. During the interview, he was euphoric after just learning that the convention's platforms committee had approved new language that's critical of any trade agreements that fail to include strong protections for workers. "It's the strongest language that we've seen in years,'' he said.

Trumka acknowledged that some rank-and-file union members have been swayed by Trump’s persona. “He has tapped into the justifiable anger’’ over the loss of good-paying, middle-class jobs, Trumka said.

But Trumka contended that union workers are changing their minds about Trump as labor leaders point to his business tactics. The union leader cited the labor strikes at Trump’s casinos in Nevada and in Atlantic City, and the fact that most of his businesses’ products are produced overseas.

In the end, contended Trumka, Trump “will get fewer votes than (Mitt) Romney did’’ in 2012 against President Barack Obama.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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