Hundreds gather to protest at Capitol
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Hundreds gather to protest at Capitol

Date: March 27, 2012
By: Matthew Patane
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 749, SB 439

JEFFERSON CITY - Thousands of people from labor unions and religious advocacy groups convened at the Missouri Capitol Tuesday, clogging up the hallways and filling up the front lawn.

Hundreds of these protesters came to the Capitol as part of a protest from union members on legislation that would alter the workplace and affect workers. Many of the union members and speakers said provisions limiting wages for public works projects and dealing with right-to-work were anti-worker and an attack against the middle class.

The rally attendees were joined by various Democratic lawmakers, such as Sens. Tim Green of St. Louis and Victor Callahan of Jackson County.

"Even though you're under have a lot of friends in Jefferson City," Green said.

Republicans, who have proposed various workplace-related measures during the legislative session, say these bills will make Missouri a better state for businesses. One of these pieces of legislation details limits on prevailing wage, which is used to determine wage rates for public works projects. President Pro Tem Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, is sponsoring one of these bills and said the Senate is supposed to debate the prevailing wage proposal on Wednesday. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed two bills earlier this month that dealt with workers' compensation and workplace discrimination lawsuits.

Democrats tried to rally the crowd amid chants of "all hands on deck" and emphasized the importance of pro-Democratic votes in the upcoming November election.

"We are taking a huge leap of faith...that election results do matter and that we can make a difference," Clint Zweifel, the state treasurer, said.

Both chambers of Missouri's legislature are controlled by Republicans. Democrats make up 56 members of the 163-person House and hold 8 out of 34 seats in the Senate.

As labor unions gathered outside to speak out against various pieces of legislation before the General Assembly that would affect workers, religious groups protested President Barack Obama's health care mandate inside.

The religious group rally comes amid the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments over the federal health care program, which was passed in 2010 and mandates that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a fine by 2014. The health care program also requires businesses, including ones affiliated with religion, to pay for coverage that includes birth control. Members of the rally said this violates their right to freedom of religion.

Protests from the religious groups were also spurred on by discussions in the state Senate over a bill that would let employers reject the federal mandate and refuse to pay for coverage of certain contraception measures. Democrats, however, say this would make it more difficult for women to acquire contraception.

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