We are proud to represent the families of fallen heroes, and in particular, Stacy Byrne. Her driving concern is that through making public her husband’s struggle with cancer, it will serve to shed light on the risks that firefighters face every call. We as a community want them protected so that there are no more preventable deaths. Chief Jeff Johnson, in the video clip, describes one device which saves lives of our firefighters.
Thinking about Veterans’ Day and how I feel about it caused me to remember some Vets in particular, each of whom is a hero to me.
First up is my friend Ron Stites, who as a member of the 101st Airborne, served in Vietnam. He was exposed to Agent Orange, and later in life had a lung transplant and severe heart damage. Ron passed away silently within the past two years. One of the finest trial lawyers I know, Ron was an early champion of women’s equality before it was openly discussed much less promoted. He is why I became active in our state trial lawyers association. There, I met the finest champions of justice, who like Ron, sought to protect the rights of citizens to a fair day in court. A great outdoors man, we fished and sometimes, hunted together. The demons of war caused him to suffer from PTSD, yet he kept that part of his life quiet to many.
My brother in law, Harold Straka, served as a Military Police officer in Vietnam. His luck held out for he had a temporary-duty assignment to transport prisoners to Ft. Leavenworth about the time that his first child was born. His good fortune stayed with him throughout his service as he avoided being wounded despite the risks of war. In his civilian life, he became a senior partner with what is now PriceWaterhouseCoopers, retired to Florida, and became as diametrically opposite me as can be imagined when it comes to politics. We still fish and play golf, while routinely jabbing each other with the needle about the politics du jour. He is my brother from another mother.
Jim Ellenberger, a graduate of OCS, served as an officer in Vietnam. He rarely ever spoke about his experiences to me. A private man, he stands as a giant in my eyes. Jim’s career was devoted to public service. As a safety and health expert with the national AFL-CIO, he worked with labor and management organizations to reduce the risks of injury and the losses sustained by families when a member was injured at work. He held public office in Virginia, and was a founding member of a non-partisan national organization, to which national elected officials look for advice, on matters of social insurance–Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment, and Workers’ Compensation. Stepping out of character, Jim co-authored a spy mystery with two of his closest friends, which I hope becomes a national best seller and Matt Damon stars in the movie some day.
The fourth is a former client, whose name I won’t share. He was a decorated veteran of Vietnam, wounded in separate firefights three times. I tried a case for him some years ago, where his PTSD from Vietnam was significantly aggravated by his job as a firefighter. After witnessing a particularly gruesome death, the stress caused him to tell his Chief he couldn’t work anymore. A firefighter for 30 years, he was rejected for a duty related retirement, rejected for worker’s compensation coverage, and left without hope. He was one of the soldiers who was spat upon when coming home through San Francisco. He felt like his community did the same when it wouldn’t support his cry for help. While he was ultimately successful through the courts, it cost him marriages, damaged his relationships, and but for a terrific counselor at the VA, he would not be alive today.
My Uncle, Charles Lynn, served in the Air Force and was a Korean War Veteran. Charlie raised three boys whom he taught to be men of character. He never missed a chance to go fishing with family, including his brothers-in-law, my Dad and Porter. His life after service was one of peaceful grace. He always had a smile, a laugh, and made me feel important whenever I saw him. Like many veterans, he chose not to speak about his personal experiences from war. He was a solid example of a life well lived, respectful of his God, a loving husband and father who led by example.
Another friend that I thought about on this day, set aside to honor those who served, is John Schiefelbein. John’s Vietnam era service still has missions which have not been declassified. A fixed wing pilot, he flew RP-2E Neptune aircraft of the 156th Army Security Agency Aviation Company. His civilian life has gravitated from being a pilot with Braniff Airlines to his current love as a wilderness outfitter for those who enjoy primitive camping and canoeing in the BWCA and Canada. John has over 30 years in that job, and countless Boy Scouts, families, Astronauts, and military brass have enjoyed his desire to make their trips memorable. But John’s service to those in need has seen him spend weeks in hurricane damages areas of our nation on numerous occasions. He doesn’t do that for acclaim, but his sense of duty to his fellow man exemplifies what is so worthy of emulation.
My friend, Sharon Martin, is a fire truck driver, and, a Colonel in the Army National Guard. She has been cleared by Congress to become a Brigadier General. Sharon’s been deployed in the Middle East war zones and was in command of the Missouri national guard MP’s when they were called to action in Ferguson, Missouri. Quiet, unassuming, and always serving the community, state and nation, Sharon’s devotion is remarkable.
Bill Clinton – not that one – “Top” to his friends, is a Marine Corp Master Sargent retiree, saw action in Vietnam, and served his country honorably for a career. I got to know him through his tireless efforts with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. Together with my other brother-in-law, Bill Straka, we joined with Top to raise scholarship monies for use by the children of Marines and Fleet Marine Force Navy Medics who are KIA. Top has spent another twenty-five years of service to Toys For Tots as well as just about any charity besides the MCSF, yet again demonstrating the desire to serve doesn’t end with separation from active duty.
My Dad, George A. Boyd, was a WWII veteran who entered France at Omaha Beach. I think about him every day, but thought about him differently today as he was an older soldier than the 17-18 year olds he served with then, for he was 31 when he enlisted. As an “old” man, he was looked up to by these boys, and Dad received a field promotion to Corporal as units were put together on that beach as they fought inland. One of the very few stories he ever told me about his service was how that promotion was for a day or two. When I looked at his DD-214, I asked him “Were you busted?”. His reply was simple: “The rigors of command were too much for me.” Dad returned home from the war with the residuals of his feet damaged by trenchfoot and severe cold. He took me to my first union meeting, as he was an officer in an IBEW local. I was about 7 or 8 years old. He instilled in me the values of brotherhood, and first taught me that an injury to one is an injury to all.
Each of these men and women are everyday heroes to me. They helped shape me and those around me in so many ways. I’m grateful for their service, for what they continued to do in their lives, and for the memories which they have left me.
Missouri union supporters have reason to be upbeat about the prospect of repealing a state law banning mandatory union dues: History is on their side.
More than 90 percent of the time, when Missouri voters have been asked to turn their thumbs up or down on a measure passed by lawmakers, they don’t agree with the politicians.
It’s been more than three decades since a law was suspended due to a referendum, but that’s what happened to “right-to-work.” Missouri unions have lost members since then, but they were still able to gather enough signatures to stall the law.
Based on the historical passion about the issue and available campaign finance data, it seems the ideological battle over “right-to-work” will continue to be fought in Missouri over the next year.
Challenging the dues ban
Union petitioners say they submitted more than 300,000 petitions calling for a vote on the issue to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office, forcing the law to be suspended until a public election.
The law forbade unions from requiring workers to join or pay dues, though a grandfather clause was included to exempt labor agreements on the books as of Aug. 28, when the law was intended to take effect.
Ashcroft’s office wanted signatures in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts to be vetted by the first of November ahead of a statewide review.
“The process is moving forward smoothly, and we continue to expect a final result this month,” spokeswoman Maura Browning said in an email.
Most of the signatures collected and submitted in Greene County were given the OK.
County Clerk Shane Schoeller said 14,524 valid signatures were collected here, along with 4,909 that were invalid.
Anti-“right-to-work” petitioners were helped by the speed with which Jefferson City Republicans sent the bill to Gov. Eric Greitens, who signed it Feb. 6.
This effectively gave petitioners several additional months to gather signatures they wouldn’t have had if the law was signed in May or late June, when Greitens signed numerous other bills.
It’s possible that Republicans in Jefferson City could throw a wrench in union plans by changing the timing of the election from November to August, when turnout tends to be lower and more conservative — and when the GOP will pick their candidate to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Big trucks and memory lane
Missourians have been asked hundreds of times whether to change state law in one way or another. Sometimes, state lawmakers pass a bill to put a question before voters. Other times, activists try to collect signatures to push a particular issue.
And occasionally, there’s overlap.
On 26 occasions, Missouri voters have considered a statutory amendment after enough signatures were collected to challenge a law passed by the Missouri General Assembly, according to information provided by Ashcroft’s office.
Only twice have Missouri voters agreed to support the laws passed by their legislators.
In 1920, Missourians voted in favor of a referendum petition to enforce U.S. Prohibition laws against alcohol. In 1926, they backed a workers’ compensation law.
Fourteen repeal votes appeared on the ballot in 1922. In the second half of the 20th century, referendum petitions only reached voters four times.
The most recent decision was the “big trucks” vote of 1982.
In 1981, Missouri legislators passed a law increasing the maximum allowable weights and lengths of trucks on state highways, the Associated Press reported then. Supporters said using bigger trucks made more economic sense, but opponents claimed the heftier vehicles would tear up the pavement and endanger other motorists.
Unions aren’t what they used to be
Fast-forward to the present day: Missouri’s “right-to-work” law is in limbo until November 2018, and battles rage on about whether the law is “good” or “bad,” whether it drives people away from unions and whether it has any effect on the economy.
Union membership has steadily declined for decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In a January news release, the bureau estimated there were 14.6 million American union workers in 2016, for a membership rate of 10.7 percent. That’s down from 1983 (the first year similar data was available), where one of every five workers was in a union.
Missouri seems to buck the trend in recent years. In 2016, the Show-Me State counted 262,000 union members, with an additional 28,000 employees covered by a labor organization, according to the labor statistics bureau.
While down from pre-recession levels, union membership totals and the percentage of employees represented by labor organizations in Missouri is up since 2012.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not break out union membership data for local areas like Springfield or Greene County due to concerns about sample size and accuracy, an economist told the News-Leader.
However, the U.S. Department of Labor collects annual reports from unions and publishes that data on its website. This data includes membership, assets, liabilities and spending for 22 active unions with Springfield addresses.
Excluding regional organizations, the largest Springfield labor organization is the Teamsters Local #245, which said in a recent report it had 2,238 members. Other sizable branches represent carpenters, communications workers, electricians, mail carriers, plumbers and metalworkers.
Big money issue
Despite the diminished stature of unions in the state, the “right-to-work” issue has attracted plenty of money, much of which is documented in filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
A political action committee called Preserve Middle Class America, connected to a Springfield union leader, was a vehicle for unions to spend more than $300,000 on petition-gathering efforts and related legal expenses.
Another PAC, We Are Missouri, has gathered at least $1.6 million, including large checks from organizations and numerous $8 donations from individuals. In turn, We Are Missouri has been paying for help from FieldWorks, a Washington, D.C. organization that specializes in gathering signatures.
FieldWorks also has been enlisted by CLEAN Missouri (a union-backed effort trying to pass sweeping ethics reform) and New Approach Missouri (a group trying to legalize medical marijuana). All told, FieldWorks has received almost $2 million this year to work in the world of Missouri politics.
The law’s supporters aren’t about to turn tail.
One PAC set up to defend “right-to-work” is Missourians for Worker Freedom, which has received $500,000 and enlisted the services of Jeff Roe, a prominent conservative consultant, and the law firm of Todd Graves, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.
Most of that funding has come from A New Missouri, a nonprofit run by Greitens’ campaign aides that does not and is not required to disclose its donors. The governor has likened such untraceable political financing (also known as “dark money”) to the practice of voting by secret ballot.
Another group backing the law, the Liberty Alliance, also has been paying the firms of Roe and Graves hundreds of thousands of dollars. Liberty Alliance’s funding includes large donations from prominent Joplin megadonor David Humphreys, the Herzog family of St. Joseph, and Wisconsin businessman Richard Uihlein.
Liberty Alliance also made waves when its pro-“right-to-work” brochures were passed out by armed men outside the Buchanan County Courthouse in August, the St. Joseph News-Press reported.
Missouri’s unions will know this month whether enough people signed their petitions to put the measure before voters in 2018.