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Anti-union Josh Hawley’s picket line pandering is shameless, phony political theater | Opinion

In my five decades as a Teamster, former trustee of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and president of the Missouri-Kansas-Nebraska Conference of Teamsters, I thought I’d seen every kind of shamelessness there is from a politician in an election year.

Then I saw Sen. Josh Hawley campaigning at a picket line with Teamsters — just months after he said 200,000 of their Teamster brothers and sisters who provide vital government services are “hostage” takers.

Wonder how we got here?

As a proud union member and retired Teamster leader, I can tell you better than most. Hawley has told me himself how he really feels about us.

But to give you the full picture, let’s start from the beginning.

Union workers first got to know Hawley as the vocal right-to-work supporter who single-handedly cut overtime pay protections for 237,000 workers and said a $12 minimum wage was “out of the mainstream.”

Now, Hawley is up for his first reelection. Times have changed since 2018.

He’s being reexamined in a post-Roe world, in the same state where out-of-touch comments on abortion rights lost Todd Akin a Senate race. Hawley’s past record is catching up with him. The election-winning unions he vilified have record-high approval. And he’s getting ripped for wearing expensive suits in Washington and putting on a “normal person” outfit every time he visits Missouri.

With the lowest approval of any Senate GOP incumbent, Hawley’s reelection campaign isn’t going as smoothly as the ambitious politician hoped. So, he’s on a mission to rebrand — and he claims to now be a pro-union champion of the working class.

Can you guess if Hawley has the new record to back it up?

Opposed creating Missouri jobs, raising minimum wage

Well, he voted to remove prevailing wage protections in the first major Davis-Bacon vote in more than a decade. He voted against bipartisan legislation to create union jobs in Missouri. Against raising the minimum wage. Against workplace protections for pregnant workers.

And while he meekly pretends to accept the will of Missouri voters on right-to-work, he refuses to prove it by co-sponsoring the Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act, inexplicably claiming it would “hurt workers more than it helps.”

With a record (and current positions) like his, even Hawley seems to know he’ll have a tough time convincing Missourians that he’s no longer the yuppie politician who said it’s “time for an end to union-backed candidates in GOP.”

So, he’s got a new tactic: visiting picket lines.

After getting negative reviews from UAW members on his stop at their picket line last September, Hawley visited the Teamster picket line at Graybar Electric in Hazelwood this month. And to prove just how “pro-union” he really is, Hawley’s campaign quickly published a tasteless campaign ad taking credit for the win that Teamsters with Local 688 had earned for themselves.

This isn’t the first time a scab politician used workers for a photo op. But between the two stops, Hawley said something that exposed his picket line pandering as the most shameful political theater I’ve ever seen.

Last October, Hawley shockingly and proudly admitted he does not support the 200,000 Teamsters, thousands of UAW workers and millions more American union members who are public sector workers who provide all of us with vital government services.

He even falsely smeared them, saying he thinks “public sector unions for a long time have held government hostage, held vital government services for people hostage.”

Tens of thousands of Missourians and nearly half of all of America’s union workers are public employees. Public sector Teamsters include road workers, school bus drivers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, school employees and so many public servants who are essential to every American who isn’t a part of the richest 1%. They should have just as much right to organize for fair wages and safe workplaces as any other worker.

If you’ve just been following Hawley’s third-person tweets about his picket line visits, the recency of this admission might surprise you. But it didn’t surprise me. I know Josh Hawley.

For years, thousands of Missouri Teamsters and 400,000 across America lived in fear of seeing their pensions cut by 50% to 70% per month. As president of the Missouri-Kansas-Nebraska Conference of Teamsters, I was willing to work with anyone from any party to push forward the Butch Lewis Act, legislation that would secure multiemployer pensions and save union retirees from destitution.

In 2019, the version of the bill passed the U.S. House, thanks in part to the now-retired Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Her support made me hopeful I might be able to count on the help of a newly-elected Hawley to get this done in the U.S. Senate.

Boy, was I wrong.

Democrats in Congress, President Biden passed pension reform

I personally went to Hawley’s office in Washington to ask for help for Teamster families on three occasions. Hawley and his staff rejected our request for help each time.

Luckily, our true allies in Congress were able to deliver on pension reform for our members. It was included in a final vote in the Senate as a part of the American Rescue Plan, passing by just a single vote. All Democratic senators voted yes and the law was signed by President Joe Biden.

Josh Hawley voted no.

From refusing to help us, to refusing to support half of union workers, it’s clear Hawley’s idea of being “pro-union” is missing something important.

It’s called solidarity.

Solidarity is when working people come together — across sectors, industries and all walks of life — to fight for the dignity they’ve earned.

Solidarity built the middle class. It’s the reason our latest union victories are also big wins for nonunion workers.

As one Teamster organizer recently put it, “Solidarity is the most powerful word in the labor movement, and you’re seeing it this year.”

Any true commitment to workers has solidarity at its center. When it comes to Hawley’s commitment, he’s replaced solidarity with himself.

Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Jim Kabell is a retired Teamsters truck driver and labor leader who lives in the Springfield area. He was not compensated by the union for this commentary.