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Kansas City Unions Rally As Crucial 'Right To Work' Vote Nears In Missouri

Cody Newill
International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa (left) and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (right) both spoke to union members Saturday. The Missouri Legislature could override Nixon's veto of a so-called 'right-to-work' bill.

More than 500 union members and politicians rallied in Kansas City on Saturday to show their support for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a so-called "right-to-work" bill.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa spoke passionately to the crowd of people packed into the Teamsters Local 41 hall.

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR
More than 500 union members packed the Teamsters Local 41 hall to hear Hoffa and Nixon speak.

"Some people say unions have too much power," Hoffa said as he raised his fists at the podium. "I say we need a hell of a lot more."

Republicans in the Legislature forced the controversial measure through last session by using a rarely used procedural action to bypass a filibuster by Democrats.

Supporters of right-to-work say it gives workers a choice of whether to associate with unions or not, while opponents say it is a tactic used to lower wages and cut benefits for workers.

Nixon also spoke at the event to enthusiastic cheers and several standing ovations from members of local SEIU, AFL-CIO and Teamsters unions. He says right-to-work legislation had its chance in 1978 when voters defeated an initiative that would've made it a constitutional amendment.

"People in Missouri rejected overwhelmingly right-to-work 37 years ago, and it's my expectation that [the Legislature] isn't going to override my veto," Nixon said. "Not only because of what we're saying here today, but because of what union members are saying across the state."

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR
The Missouri Legislature's veto session starts Sept. 16, and right-to-work will be one of the biggest issues on the table.

Among the crowd of people at the rally was Murray Kassner, a member of Joplin, Missouri's Teamster Local 823 union. He says unions have to defend workers against outside interests and supporters of right-to-work legislation.

"We're one of the obstacles that's standing between corporations, outside interests, millionaires and billionaires just totally running over the working and middle class," Kassner said. "I see what right-to-work has done in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas."

If lawmakers override Nixon's veto, Missouri will become the 26th right-to-work state. The Legislature's veto session starts Sept. 16. 

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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