By Eli Yokley
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — For Missouri labor advocates, there have certainly been pieces of legislation to oppose during this session of the General Assembly.
Emboldened by super-majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans have pushed for legislation such as “paycheck protection,” changes to prevailing wage rules, and “right to work:” all policies opposed by labor groups.
For the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 72, a labor union for public workers, an imperative focus on building friendships is of the utmost importance with not only Democrats, but a handful of Republicans in competitive districts too.
“Working with a number of different Republicans in the House and Senate has allowed us to be as successful as we have been,” said Alexandra Townsend, political coordinator for AFSCME Council 72. “It’s what works: sitting down and talking to folks and finding common ground allows for a lot of success, no matter what organization you’re working in.”
Townsend said that the organization has made a real push to work with both parties — including contributing and supporting campaigns of Republicans in primaries and even some General Election races.
“You have to be willing to work with people who are willing to work with you,” she added.
AFSCME Council 72, which covers Missouri and Kansas, was established during 1965, when the American public sector labor movement was rapidly growing. Some 48 years later, the organization says it represents nurses, corrections officers, child-care providers, emergency workers and more, in an effort to advocate for “fairness at the bargaining table” with employers.
“We work for justice in the workplace and advocacy for prosperity and opportunity for all of Missouri’s families,” Townsend said.
Townsend said while her organization is obviously watching the labor policies being pushed by Republicans in the legislature, they are also watching a number of other bills moving through the legislature, including the budget, bills to improve the state’s infrastructure and a potential two percent pay increase for nearly 54,000 state employees making less than $70,000 per year.
Last year, the group asked and received a two percent increase in state employee pay, but Townsend said Missouri workers are still 50th in the nation in terms of pay.
“We advocate for that every year,” she said. “We look forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats to make sure the wage scale in Missouri rises to reach the nation standards and average. Being 50 out of 50 in employee pay is not something Missourians should be proud of.”
The group, based in downtown Jefferson City, has about nine people based in its office led by Jeff Mazur, executive director of AFSCME Council 72.
Late last month, the group staged a rally with about 250 members on the Capitol steps. Their group lobbied lawmakers that day against some of the labor bills they were considering.
To reach Eli Yokley, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter at @eyokley.