ST. LOUIS – National and international union groups have poured into St. Louis for the national AFL-CIO convention. President of the Missouri AFL-CIO Mike Louis was among some of the representatives to welcome the various labor factions to St. Louis. He mentioned that despite several laws which have put pressure on labor unions, the convention was a promising sign for the labor movement.
“It’s been going great. A lot of people are happy to be here,” he said. “Everyone is extremely pleased about the turnout, how the hard work paid off. It’s a higher standard and a higher quality than we have ever imagined.”
In the past year, the Missouri state government passed SB 66, which redesigned the way employees can file for worker’s compensation; SB 43, which made it harder for employees to file discrimination claims; and have made Missouri a right-to-work state. At the same time, union advocates have seen some promising signs. Through Louis’ leadership, union advocates were able to collect over 300,000 signatures for the opportunity for a citizens’ veto of the right-to-work law.
“It was a really pleasant surprise to end up where we did on the amount of signatures [that we collected] and the validity of them as well,” Louis said.
Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council, mentioned that out-of-state unions have faced similar pressure from laws passed by their state governments and the convention has allowed unions the opportunity to talk about their various difficulties. Such conversations, he said, allow unions to learn from other’s mistakes.
“It’s been really receptive because a lot of the folks who are in right-to-work states and have been going through what we’re going through right now. They’ve been able to offer a whole lot of suggestions,” White said. “Some of them have said it made their local [unions] not bigger, but closer because, when [states become right-to-work states,] you really have to internally organize.”
Louis reports that despite some of the difficult conversations, convention visitors in St. Louis have only positive feedback. “It’s been really great. A lot of people are really happy to be here and we get all kinds of compliments about how nice of a city [St. Louis] is and not at all how the press portrays it. People are having a great time,” Louis says. “We’re hearing good things, all the right things.”
At the convention, some of the bright spots have been that union workers were some of the first responders to hurricane disasters in Houston and Puerto Rico. Specifically, union garbage truck workers have helped Houston clear some of the debris and truck drivers have flown to Puerto Rico. Louis was proud of the fact that union pipe workers have able to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Flint, Michigan. One of the biggest examples that stick out in his mind was how union workers responded to Hurricane Katrina.
“That’s something labor does all the time, whether it’s a convention year or not,” Louis said. “Labor unions were the first ones in New Orleans helping people voluntarily.”
While certain people admire humility as a virtue, Louis is worried that a lack of self-promotion allows some people to ignore their contributions. “That’s something that is probably our fault, I mean labor as a whole, we do a lot of good work and we don’t toot our own horns, so to speak. We just do it, we do it right, and we get out of people’s way. Maybe we need to let people know all the good stuff we do.”
At the convention, the AFL-CIO has passed several resolutions to help guide public policy and facilitate union organization. As 2018 approaches, union advocates are eagerly waiting to realize their expectations.
“Labor and community groups are more unified than we have ever been,” Louis said. “We’re working together against the common enemy of corporate greed and we’re going to kick ass when the time comes.”
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer