KC labor fights

August 31, 2017

From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters

Kansas City, Mo.—Days before the “right-to-work” bill enacted by the Republican-controlled state government was due to go into effect on Aug. 28, Missouri unions and civil rights groups turned in more than 300,000 signatures that postponed its taking effect until at least November 2018, when voters would have a chance to reject it. The petition campaign gathered over three times the number of signatures required to suspend the anti-labor law.

Republicans could expect to have the upper hand over workers in a gerrymandered legislature and in the courts, but now face the electorate (minus those whose votes can be suppressed) thanks to a law not invoked since 1984, but which had allowed voters to undo laws 24 out of 26 times. Already there is talk that lawmakers might have plans, if “right-to-work” is rejected next year, to enact the same law in the next session—the way it was done in Michigan after voters had successfully eliminated the tyrannical emergency manager law.

The legislature had also mandated a rollback of the minimum wage in St. Louis and Kansas City to the state minimum of $7.75 an hour. In the face of that, voters in Kansas City by more than two to one ratified an even higher minimum wage—$10 an hour, on up to $15 an hour by 2022—despite opponents claiming that state law would stop it. That is true, short of action in the courts or in another referendum. Thanks to gerrymandered legislative districts, most politicians need not fear losing after picking workers’ pockets.

—Former minimum-wage worker

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