Despite often finding themselves on opposite sides of many issues, employers and labor have been able to work together on common issues since the early 1900’s.
That was the central message as Associated Industries of Missouri president Ray McCarty addressed the annual Mid America Labor – Management Conference at the Lake of the Ozarks this week.
McCarty recounted the history of the Missouri Workers’ Compensation System as an example of business and labor cooperation that finally came to fruition after more than 15 years of effort.
Missouri had been among the first ten states to express interest in a workers’ compensation insurance system during the 1910s, but was the only one of the ten not to pass a work comp law by 1913.
Governor Herbert Hadley commissioned a legislative report on the issue in 1910. The report was rejected by the legislature in 1911.
That first effort began nearly annual attempts to come to an agreement. It wasn’t until 1919, the year AIM was formed, that the state’s major labor associations could come together on a consensus piece of legislation. But the bill that ultimately passed the legislature in 1919 was deemed too favorable for employers and the unions and trial attorneys lead the fight to put the bill to a referendum in 1920. Voters defeated the bill 52% – 48%.
Several other measures in succeeding years, some sponsored by labor, some by lawyers, were also turned down by Missouri voters. Finally in 1925, AIM brokered a deal with labor, employers and the insurance industry to draft what was one of the more liberal workers’ compensation laws in the country.
Trial attorneys balked, because the system didn’t rely on a state-run fund. But this time, organized labor, employers, major press groups, both political parties and other supporters focused on passing the bill at the polls in 1926. The measure passed at the polls by a 69-31% margin, and the system went into effect in 1927.
McCarty said such triumphs are not only isolated to that one instance. He reminded the audience that labor and business came together as recently as 2010 to pass the Missouri Manufacturing Jobs Act during a special legislative session. That bill resulted in saving hundreds of jobs and creating many more new jobs in Missouri.
“We need to make sure to remember the success of our past cooperation and use it as a template for moving forward toward common legislative goals in the future,” said McCarty.