Good old Claude Ramsay would be turning over in his grave if he knew that the crowd running state government is trying to drive his beloved organized labor movement out of Mississippi.
And they seen to be pretty well accomplishing their goal. Case in point: Some of the state’s biggest employers won’t let workers vote on whether they want to be represented by a union.
It goes without saying that the state is latently opposed to unions, but few Mississippians seem to know that Mississippi is a “right-to-work” state and has been since 1960 when Ross Barnett slyly pushed an RTW amendment into the state constitution. Basically, it says a worker doesn’t have to join a union even if his fellow employees vote to install one in the plant.
While the average citizen doesn’t know we are a right-to-work state, industrialists eying possible locations in Mississippi certainly do.
A new steel company locating in Columbus let the cat out of the bag recently when it stated that Steel Dynamics Inc. came to Mississippi because of the state’s “nonunion operating culture.”
That’s likely what Mississippi’s industry-hunters must be stressing in their sales pitch to industrial prospects as to why they should locate here. Of course, other goodies such as low wages, slim workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, plus the nation’s most generous subsidies and tax breaks are in the sales package.
Both workers’ comp and unemployment benefits could be upgraded by the Legislature, but lawmakers have gone in the opposite direction since Haley Barbour landed at the Capitol 12 years ago.
One bill virtually ripped the guts out of the state’s 66-year-old Workers’ Comp law which basically guaranteed compensation for any worker killed or injured on the job. Mississippi was the last state in the nation to enact a workers’ comp system. The 2014 bill lauded by BIPEC would require an injured worker to meet a new set of conditions to qualify for benefits. Doubtless, it will be contested in the courts.
During Barbour’s eight-year gubernatorial reign, he scrapped the longstanding three-member Employment Security Commission and installed a new system controlled by the governor. One member of the extinct commission was designated by law to represent the working class.
Mississippi’s weekly unemployment benefits were the lowest in the South when the U.S. Department of Labor warned the state in 2008 its Unemployment Trust Fund was top-heavy, indicating the state’s benefits for unemployed workers were too low. Barbour three years earlier had reduced the payroll tax for employers but refused to increase the weekly jobless benefits. Pushed by House Democrats who then held a majority of House seats, Barbour was forced to agree to a small increase in the weekly maximum benefits. Who knows what Republicans now enforcing party control will do to help jobless workers put food on the table?
Ramsay, who for 26 years was president of the Mississippi AFL-CIO, was regarded as the best friend this state’s working people ever had. He died in 1986, only a year after he retired from his post. There are no Claude Ramsays around anymore. And Mississippi is still at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Syndicated columnist BILL MINOR has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.