When a group of anti-union lawmakers decided to impose so-called “Right to Work” in Missouri in order to weaken unions in both the public and private sectors, the working people of the “Show Me State” decided to fight back. They quickly collected more than 300,000 signatures to place Right to Work on the ballot as a referendum, allowing it to be decided by the voters.
It had been 40 years since Missourians first quashed efforts to make their state Right to Work, and the pro-worker forces in the state knew that defeating this policy once again would require a massive, powerful and highly skilled get-out-the-vote operation — so they called for reinforcements.
IBEW 1245 answered the call, dispatching four two-person teams of organizing stewards to work with IBEW sister locals in St. Louis and Kansas City during the weeks leading up to the election. Their goal was to encourage as many voters as possible to vote No on Prop A, the Right to Work referendum.
In a state where just 8.7 percent of the workers are union members, Right to Work might seem like a niche issue that only would impact a small percentage of the workforce. But in reality, Right to Work is so much more than just a union issue – it effects every worker, union or not. Statistics show that Right to Work states have lower wages, more workplace fatalities, more people without health insurance and higher unemployment rates – for union and non-union members alike.
“Right to Work laws are an attack on labor as a whole, and it’s also an attack on our brothers and sisters in Missouri,” said Organizing Steward Alvin Dayoan, who participated in the No on Prop A campaign. “This is why I am very proud to be a part of IBEW 1245, because the help that we provide to our brother and sister locals also helps the working class.”
Solidarity in Action
Upon their arrival in Missouri, the Local 1245 organizing stewards went to work, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and doing all that they could to drum up support for No on Prop A. They were often the first ones to arrive at the campaign headquarters and the last to go home at the end of the day, using every moment available to maximize their outreach to voters.
And they weren’t alone. Volunteers from all across the state and nation, from all walks of life and all across the political spectrum worked tirelessly on this herculean get-out-the-vote effort.
“It is always amazing to me when I see solidarity in action. The No on Prop A campaign had so many allies standing together,” said Local 1245 Organizing Steward Joseph Stewart. “Everyone did their fair share to help, and it was great to see such a wide variety of union members, non-union members, legislators, voters from all parties, retirees, new hires, local employees, and out-of-state volunteers all coming together for a common good.”
The organizing stewards were welcomed with open arms by their midwestern allies, many of whom couldn’t believe that they would travel so far to assist with the Missouri fight.
“At a No on Prop A rally, I met a guy in his 80s who was sitting next to me. When I told him I was from Local 1245 in California, he was so excited and surprised to see us out there — and so, so thankful,” said Organizing Steward Brittney Santana. “He told me that his dad was in IBEW Local 1, and he also got both of his sons into Local 1 … and that made me realize we’re not only fighting
for ourselves right now, we’re fighting for the future!”
The many hours spent getting out the vote were far from easy, and the organizing stewards had to contend with all sorts of challenges they had never faced before, including intense humidity, a bit of midwestern “culture shock,” and a number of new and unusual bugs and insects. Some returned to California with physical reminders of the arduous days they spent in Missouri.
But as the results started to come in on election night, it was clear that all their hard work had paid off. Prop A wasn’t just defeated, it was absolutely decimated by an astounding two-to-one margin. The No on Prop A campaign will go down in history as the first time that voters of any state have ever overturned a Right to Work law.
“It brings a smile to my face knowing I had a hand in this historical moment, and an even bigger smile knowing we come out on top … victorious!” said Organizing Steward Teofilo Freeman.
“I feel that this was a much-needed win during a time in which labor is being hit on all sides,” said Lead Organizing Steward Ashley Finley. “This win is exactly what we needed going into the November election; this momentum will push us to make change.”
The organizing stewards also took away a wealth of irreplaceable training and experience that they will surely utilize on future union-backed campaigns.
“I have gained not only the skills it takes to organize a campaign, but the motivation it takes to keep fighting,” said Lead Organizing Steward Que Thompson. “It is a great feeling being a part of something you know will make life better for working families.”
IBEW 1245’s teams were celebrated by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as setting the gold standard for labor solidarity, and received shout-outs from IBEW International President Lonnie Stevenson and AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler.
The IBEW sister locals expressed their profound gratitude for the tremendous solidarity and the experience and work ethic the 1245 organizers brought to the campaign, and now the brothers and sisters from Local 1 in St. Louis and Local 124 in Kansas City are ready to return the favor.
“Both locals have reached out to us and have committed to sending some of their own activists our here this fall to assist Local 1245 in defeating Question 3 [an energy deregulation measure on the ballot in Nevada],” IBEW 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell told the team upon their return from Missouri. “Of course that’s not why we did it, but it sure is nice.”
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director