The United Working People of Mid-Missouri hopes to restore labor’s effect on the political process, at least in Boone County.
The new political action committee, composed mainly of people who also belong to labor unions, served chili with a side of politics Sunday at its kickoff event, which doubled as fund-raiser and pep rally. The chili cook-off attracted about 150 people, many of them union members.
Local politicians did not miss the opportunity to make a public appearance. About 20 attended, ranging from former Gov. Roger Wilson to four candidates hoping to fill Democratic state Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson’s seat in the 25th District.
The group hopes to influence local elections this year but has no plans to become involved in federal politics.
An umbrella organization consisting of about 15 unions, with about 50 members before Sunday’s event, the group grew from the ideas of about 10 people. Discussions began in November, but President Steve McLuckie and Treasurer Russ Unger didn’t finish the paperwork in Jefferson City until late January.
Though only Democrats and independents attended the cook-off, McLuckie said the group will look at all candidates, and each will go through an interview before receiving support.
Candidates must agree with the group’s views on key issues, including health care, education and job-creating policies.
“Once we have a list of everybody whose who’s filed — Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, whoever’s running — we’re going to invite them to come and talk to us about our issues, and we’ll consider everybody,” McLuckie said.
McLuckie said his group will differ from most political action committees in its grass-roots focus on top of fund-raising power.
“We will be pounding the pavement and working for our candidates; we’re not just a bank account,” McLuckie said.
McLuckie, who works for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association, said the group’s ideas might be new to mid-Missouri but are not new at a national level.
McLuckie said the group is building its e-mail list.
It estimates that about 4,000 union members are in Boone County and surrounding areas who can be tapped for support.
“That’s 4,000 door-knockers, that’s 4,000 people who can give you financial support, that’s 4,000 people that can put up signs,” Sergeant at Arms Linda Vogt said.
Union membership is at a record low nationwide, having dropped in 2003 to 12.9 percent of wage and salary workers, according the U.S. Department of Labor. Part of this is because many union jobs are now filled out of the country. In the past three years, Missouri has lost more than 50,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector, an industry once dominated by labor unions, according to the department.