Union workers at Missouri American Water Company are holding out against the contract the company is trying to force on them. Actually, “contract” is too generous a description of it. It’s more like a caricature of a contract. A burlesque. A sick parody that offers a two percent raise, coupled with a 50 percent rise in health care premiums and deep cuts in services. Oh and by the way, there’s a clause in there that destroys the union, granting the company the right to outsource whichever jobs it jolly well decides to.
The workers have demonstrated in front of the company headquarters and most Saturdays they show up in front of the home of one or another of the company executives for informational pickets. A week ago Saturday, I visited with a dozen or so brave, persistent souls who were standing on the sidewalk in front of the Webster Groves home of the company’s Human Resources Manager, Ann Simmons. One of the workers, Jim Wheaton, told me that a man had passed them a few minutes before I arrived and had said that he sympathized with their need to fight back but that they were out of line to picket particular execs at home. Blink. How dare they embarrass a woman who has sat in contract negotiations and supported taking their union away from them? How loutish, how uncivil, how unrefined of the workers to publicly scold Ms. Simmons. After Wheaton remembered to close his mouth, he asked the passerby if the man had a better solution. “Well no.”
Jim and Cheryl Wheaton
I do. I have a better solution. These twelve brave souls need to show up at Ms. Simmons’ home next Saturday with an additional 200 people. Or better yet, 500. They need to make sure that the media know they’ll have hundreds of workers blocking the sidewalk all up and down both sides of that quiet little neighborhood. Every week. They need media attention. Now, while Americans are pissed off at the attacks on worker rights, NOW is the time to make a very public spectacle of what Missouri American Water is trying to pull.
“Oh really,” those twelve dogged picketers say. And how do you propose we conjure up those other 500 bodies? We’ve misplaced our wands.
No wands required. It’s as simple–and as daunting–as forming a metro wide alliance of progressive groups–not just Missouri American Water workers, but NEA and AFT teachers, UAW guys and Teamsters, plus all those people who belong to liberal entities like Jobs with Justice, Pro-Vote, Alliance for Retired Americans, Coalition for the Environment, Sierra Club, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, Young Democrats and Show Me No Hate. It’s the “You get my back and I’ll get yours” philosophy. And I can even tell you who is proposing to act on that idea. Missouri Progressive Action Group (MOPAG) is touching bases with all the stakeholders I just named and many more and inviting them to a conference where such an alliance might be formed.
Let me offer an example of what such an alliance could achieve. Last month, when I was in Cheyenne for a couple of weeks, I needed a haircut. I was explaining to the hairdresser, a gay man named Joe Corrigan, what MOPAG is about and he told me that Wyoming, a very red state, has a statewide progressive alliance. He said it was so effective that it managed to stop every one of the anti-gay bills introduced in the legislature. When one of the bills was being discussed in committee, Corrigan told me, a burly construction worker got up and told the committee members that the bill under consideration was immoral. “It’s wrong and unamerican to target people just because they’re gay,” he said. Joe said that testimony was so much more effective than if a gay hairdresser had spoken. I asked why the guy had done it. “Why? he said in disbelief. “Because. He’s union. He’s in the alliance!”
Missouri progressives already do a lot of good coordinating, of course. Unions working with progressive groups managed to stop dead every one of the anti-worker bills in the last legislative session. Pro-Vote has had an alliance for years, and now they have a new executive director, Matt Patterson, who is working to breathe more life into it. But a more encompassing vision might accomplish even more. It might, for example turn a couple of hundred people out in front of Ann Simmons’ home in Websters Groves on a regular basis. It might instill the fear in badly behaved St. Louis corporations of facing a unified front from working people.
An alliance like that could target one or several Republican held seats and put a lot of boots on the ground to shove out of power a few those legislators who hate public schools, poor people, puppies and pensions for working people. A professional researcher and pollster, a lifelong Democrat, has offered MOPAG her services free to help us design and do a poll in whichever area we choose to target.
MOPAG’s next meeting is this Saturday at the St.Louis County Headquarters On Lindbergh at 12:30 p.m. If you’re a St. Louisan who wants to take action instead of kvetching about the sorry state of affairs, be there. Or call Rea (314-727-7374) and ask to be added to the MOPAG listserv. But if you join, do it knowing that sometime soon you’ll be asked to do something.