12/7-News from the MissouriNet

African-American Missouri legislator says racial bias training won’t solve racial problems

State Rep. Alan Green, D-Florissant, wants his Missouri legislative colleagues to take what he calls “Unconscious Racial Bias Training”. His call is in response to recent racially charged comments made by a visitor and a state lawmaker.

Rep. Alan Green

“It is important that we continue to foster a work environment where employees feel comfortable and free from hostile or offensive language. This type of behavior and prejudicial discourse should have no place in our state, let alone this institution and I am in full support of the Missouri House providing mandated diversity training. By implementing this training, it is my hope that we are able to work diligently to avoid racial bias in the workplace as well as more sufficiently ensure increased awareness among our employees,” says Green.

An August Facebook post by State Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola, said Confederate memorial vandals should be “hung from a tall tree with a long rope”. A recent visitor to the Missouri Capitol was also asked to leave after saying something racially-offensive.

State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. speaks on the Missouri House floor on May 24, 2017 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at Missouri House Communications}

State Rep. Bruce Franks, Jr., D-St. Louis, says training won’t solve the racial problems.

“You can’t train somebody how not to be racist. You can give all the unbiased and implicit bias training in the world but that’s not going to stop somebody from feeling the way they feel about me,” says Franks. “You’re not born racist. These things are taught to you by the people that you lost most: your mother, your father, grandfather, aunt and uncle.”

Franks thinks there’s a better approach.

“How about you take that person to that community full of people that look like you that come from the same community, so they can have a real conversation with the people, not somebody who’s been trained to teach people how not to be racist,” he asks.

Franks has actively protested in a non-violent manner in the St. Louis area in recent weeks after a September court ruling that freed a former police officer of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a black drug suspect. Franks was also an activist in Ferguson after Michael Brown, Jr. was shot and killed by a former police officer.






Missouri auditor proposes to reinstate whistleblower protections eliminated by law

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway Wednesday threw her support behind a bill that’s been pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session in Jefferson City.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway (D)

The legislation rolls back a provision in a new discrimination law as it applies to state and local government employees.  The statute was billed as a means to stimulate business activity and job creation by getting rid of burdensome regulations.  But Galloway claims it goes too far by putting public workers at risk.

Among the law’s provisions is one that removes protections for “whistleblowers”, people who report wrong doing in the work place.  The statute in place applies to both public and private sector workers.

The bill backed by Galloway reinstates the whistleblower protections specifically for government employees.

It also includes language seeking to add transparency to the transactions of the state’s Legal Expense Fund, which issues settlement payments for lawsuits against Missouri.  The measure would expressly prohibit non-disclosure agreements in those settlements.

Galloway’s office released an audit in September showing the state had spent more than $9 million over a six-year period on employment discrimination cases.

The reinstatement of whistleblower protections would change existing law, while the effort to track the Legal Defense Fund would establish new legislation.

In a statement, Galloway said “Non-disclosure agreements as a part of state legal settlements, coupled with compromised protections for whistleblowers, allow improper government activity to be shrouded in secrecy.”

Galloway is the only Democratic statewide office holder.  The bill she’s championing has been filed by two fellow party members – Senator Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur and Representative Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City.

McCann Beatty thinks the measure holds those in government accountable for their actions.  “When there is wrongdoing or mismanagement in government, those responsible will go to great lengths to keep the public in the dark,” said Rep. McCann Beatty.

“State law must ensure that people with knowledge of official misdeeds are encouraged to come forward without fear of retaliation and prohibit imposing gag orders on victims to keep the details of taxpayer-funded legal settlements secret.”

Schupp says the bill will shed a light on improper activity in state government.  “It’s time to do away with secrecy in Jefferson City. We should be secure in the knowledge that our tax dollars are being well-managed and that our public officials are held accountable for their actions,” said Sen. Schupp.

“This legislation promotes transparency and protects public employees who speak out for the best interests of Missourians. I urge my colleagues to advance this bill without delay.”

The provision in place that weakens whistleblower protections is included in a contentious law is known as Senate Bill 43, which is central to a “travel advisory” issued by the NAACP.  It’s centerpiece component increases the burden of proof on people claiming workplace discrimination.

The law states that a practice is unlawful if the protected classification – based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin – is “the motivating factor” in a decision to discriminate.  Previously, the protected classification needed only to be “a contributing factor” in order to prove discrimination.

In October, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development informed the state the new stipulation is out of compliance with federal standards in the Fair Housing Act.  The agency said Missouri will be suspended from participating in the Fair Housing Assistance Program on March 18th, 2018 if the law is mot revised to be in compliance.

Two Democrats – Senator Jake Hummel of St. Louis and Representative Gina Mitten of St. Louis pre-filed legislation earlier this week to largely repeal Senate Bill 43.






Missouri union savors new contract with food service workers in tough labor climate

Labor unions haven’t had much success expanding their member base in recent years, either in the Show-Me State or across the country. Missouri became the 28th Right to Work state in February when Republican control of the legislature and the governor’s seat allowed for quick passage of a law after several failed attempts.

Image courtesy of United Food and Commercial Workforce (UFCW) Local 655

Right to Work is a condition that allows employees to opt out of joining unions in work places where those organizations bargain for their pay and benefits.

The statute has been delayed from taking effect because of labor efforts that have been successful in getting it to a referendum before voters next year. But overall, unions have been struggling to retain a foothold in recent times.

So, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) was somewhat thrilled to announce its recent agreement to represent food service workers at Washington University in St. Louis.

UCFW spokesperson Collin Reischman says the contract brings the largest group of new union workers into its fold in a couple of years.

“This is a group of people that went from being, not in a union, to being in a union with a contract, basically after one vote,” said Reischman. “To us, we thought it was important, because look, to be totally candid with you, not a lot of unions are growing. We’ve seen labor, sort of be shrinking the last couple of decades. I don’t think anyone can deny that.”

The new contact was approved by the employees of Bon Appetit at Washington University by a 54% margin. The 300 workers will get a wage increase of between 11% and 14% over the next three years.

According to its web site, Bon Appetit is an on-site restaurant company offering full food service management to corporations, universities, museums, and specialty venues.

Reischman indicated the firm provides food service for several other businesses and schools in the St. Louis area and stated UCFW could sign union contracts with those operations in the future. Some of the large businesses include MasterCard and Pfizer. Reischman said the Bon Appetit employees at Washington University now have some guarantees at the work place they didn’t have before.

“Folks were showing up to work their six-hour shift, and a lot of these folks are folks taking public transport, so they they’re showing up, and then it turns out ‘Oh it’s a slow day. We don’t need you. Go Home’. So now, if they tell you to go home, they either have to pay you for four hours of work, or work you for four hours and do your normal pay scale.”

Mandatory split shifts are another practice ending for the Bon Appetit workers at Washington University.

As it stands now, the public vote on the Missouri’s Right to Work law is set for next November. The business-friendly Republican dominated state legislature could move the election to another date when a smaller turnout could favor a vote to keep the statute in place.

November’s election will likely draw supporters of Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who’s in a tight reelection campaign, leading up to the polls. Unions typically receive strong backing from Democrats.

UFCW’s Reischman says labor unions are still fighting to stay relevant, given the challenges they face from business interests.

“Labor’s having trouble in some places,” Reischman said. “Obviously, politically we’re in a bunch of fights. But look, we’re still out there. All of our organizers who I share an office with are out there right now trying to organize another location to grow the union.”






IRS Missouri offer suggestions to protect identity during shopping and tax filing seasons

The St. Louis branch of the IRS is urging Missouri residents to be watchful of predators looking to cash in on your identity during to the holiday season.  Spokesperson Michael Devine says there are easy ways to safeguard your identity when shopping online.

Image courtesy of the IRS

“Check the URL at the top,” said Devine.  “It should say “https” to show that it’s secure.  If you get emails from someone that asks for your personal and financial information, don’t necessarily click on that link.  It could infect your computer.”  He suggests you offer only the last for digits of your social security number, if any at all.

The IRS has partnered with the Springfield Better Business Bureau in a campaign to urge Missourians to protect their tax data and their identities.

According to the Deloitte survey, Online spending is expected to exceed in-store sales for the first time this holiday season, by a 51%-to-42% margin.  Devine says shoppers are better advised to seek out a retailer’s website by doing a search, rather than clicking a link in an online ad which could be compromised.

“You don’t want to be chasing that sale and give up all of your personal and financial information.  That’s why you need to have good software protection, malware on your computer.”

The IRS offer several suggestions to safeguard sensitive information.  Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and will automatically update. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records stored on computers. Also, use strong passwords.

IRS criminal investigators and the U.S. Treasury Department are charged with tracking down identity thieves who file fraudulent tax returns.  Devine claims the IRS has never been breached and contends e-filing tax returns is completely secure.

Because they’ve had no success breaching the government, Devine says criminals have turned to schemes involving private businesses.  A year-round problem the IRS deals will is company payroll departments that are victimized by identity thieves posing as management.

A payroll employee will get an email from what appears to be a high-ranking executive asking for a copy of every employee’s W-2 form for the purpose of conducting a manual review.  Devine says criminals are now going after source documents such as W-2 and 1099 forms that people use to create their tax returns.

There have been numerous instances where thieves have accessed the tax documents of businesses that employ hundreds of people, and then filed fraudulent returns.

Devine thinks it’s important to protect your personal information by storing it electronically.  He advises against carrying hard copies of social security cards or storing tax documents in obvious places at home.

“Hopefully it’s not sitting on a shelf where if you’re the victim of a burglary, they can see a big shoe box that says, “tax stuff”, Devine said.  “They’ll take that box because they’ll have all of your information.”

The IRS reports that the number of people reporting they were victims of identity theft fell to 376,000 in 2016, a 46 percent decline from 699,000 in 2015. So far in 2017, the downward trend has continued.  Though August, there were 189,000 taxpayers who reported themselves as identity theft victims, a drop of roughly 40 percent from the same time a year ago.






Missouri Sen. Blunt holds hearing to explore options for fighting opioid crisis

A panel chaired Missouri’s Republican Senator Roy Blunt held a hearing on the opioid crisis Tuesday.  Blunt identified three key proposals for battling the problem during the meeting of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt-R

One path calls for finding the best option for treating an opioid use disorder.  Blunt noted unstable mood and anxiety conditions double the risk of addiction.

“If you’re going to effectively address opioid addiction, we need that those suffering can access effective treatment,” said Blunt.  “That needs to include mental health services.”

He also said there needs to be a concerted effort to stem the spread of addiction.  “We need to do all we can to insure that the people we work for, the people of our states and of our country understand the real and obvious risk of taking opioids and taking them in a way that can lead to addiction.”

Thirdly, Blunt said there need to be pain management options that don’t lead to addiction.

During the hearing, Blunt noted the death rates of all drug overdoses now rival the those of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990’s.  He also stated that opioid specific overdoses now supersede car accidents as the number one accidental cause of death in the U.S.

Blunt said he and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, have actively sought to boost funding to address the opioid epidemic.

“We’ve written bills that repeatedly increased the opioid funding, an increase of about $760 million, which is a 1,300 percent increase from where we were just three years ago,” said Blunt.

Among those testifying at the hearing were former Democratic Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, who is now a member of the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, and Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health.

Collins noted first responders are using a new overdose antidote in emergency situations.  He said nasal inhalants are increasingly taking the place of inject-able products.

“If you look at use by first responders, the nasal version has now greatly outstripped the inject-able form in terms of what first responders now have access to,” said Collins.  “(That’s) in part because it’s cheaper, but mostly because it’s easier to administer.  It doesn’t require any special treatment.”

Collins said nasal inhalants for overdoses cost $70, where as injectables go for roughly $4,500.