- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The St. Joseph News-Press, July 14

Freedom at heart of Prop A

Arguments about right-to-work legislation often veer away from workers’ rights to focus more on the impact on the economy or the future of the union movement.

This is understandable - the economy is important and unions will still play a role. But the shift in focus undervalues the impact on the workers who would benefit first and foremost.

The opportunities for the economy indeed are significant based on what has been seen in the 27 states where right-to-work is the law of the land. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports right-to-work states post higher gains in economic output and saw 8.6 percent job growth between 2005 and 2015, versus 5 percent growth in non-right-to-work states.

This becomes more important when you recognize that Missouri sits at the center of a competitive Midwest region dominated by right-to-work states. Because of this, we run the risk of missing out on economic-development projects that have a choice about where they locate.

Unions, meanwhile, have reason to be concerned about their declining influence nationally and where their movement is headed. But this was true before Proposition A was placed on the Aug. 7 ballot in Missouri, and it still will be true, win or lose, after the vote.

It is transparent that union leaders are more focused on their survival than on the interests of eager-to-work state residents who have skills and would benefit immediately from expanded opportunities for employment.

It also seems clear opponents of Prop A have no good answer to the argument that no person should be compelled to pay dues to a labor union as a condition of employment.

And yet, this is the reality that has led to this vote - workers throughout Missouri routinely are required to take a portion of their paycheck and turn it over the unions, even when they have no interest in being a union member or having union representation.

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, puts it well: “If unions want more members, they should work to earn members and make workers want to belong by better representing their people and showing the value of union representation, not forcing union membership on workers . “

Union membership has declined markedly over the last 50 years and today stands at less than 11 percent of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unions may not like it, but it hardly makes sense they should be able to continue to dictate terms of employment - through mandatory payment of dues - to workers who choose not to belong.

Defenders of workers’ freedom to choose will vote “yes” on Prop A and allow the legislature’s 2017 approval of right-to-work to take effect.


The Kansas City Star, July 14

Does talcum powder cause cancer? St. Louis jury says yes with $4.69 billion verdict

A St. Louis jury sent a powerful message Thursday by awarding nearly $5 billion in damages over claims from women who alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder caused ovarian cancer.

The company, which has vowed to appeal, instead should take a hard look at pulling its baby powder from shelves or should, at a minimum, warn consumers of its dangers. Educating the public about possible links between talc use and cancer is paramount.

That the jury in St. Louis unanimously sided with the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit is telling, and the 22 women and their families who sued Johnson & Johnson deserve to be compensated without delay. All claimed that their ovarian cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos allegedly found in Johnson & Johnson’s powder.

The $550 million in damages that the jury awarded the victims translates to about $25 million for each family. Johnson & Johnson was docked $3.15 billion in punitive damages, and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. was ordered to pay $990,000.

The definitive $4.7 billion statement should put Johnson & Johnson on notice. So far, though, the pharmaceutical giant has been defiant in defeat.

“Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies,” read a statement from the company. “Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed.”

The company’s unwillingness to take corrective action is disappointing. But plaintiff Karen Hawk, a 67-year-old cancer survivor from Kansas City, isn’t surprised.

The mother of five used baby powder from the time she was 10 until a cancer diagnosis in 2003. She has been cancer-free since 2008.

“These people are only concerned with the bottom line,” Hawk said of Johnson & Johnson.

Internal documents acknowledging asbestos in products or failures to warn consumers were the smoking gun in this case. That evidence, the jury said, signified the company knew of the dangers of its product.

Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, urged Johnson & Johnson to pull talcum powder from the market or add a serious warning label. That’s a reasonable request.

The victims sent stern messages as well.

One warned consumers not to buy the product. Another told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch she hopes the case will compel Johnson & Johnson make needed changes to protect mothers and babies.

Johnson & Johnson and its affiliate company should heed the words of Lanier: “You don’t jack with people’s lives like this.”

And you don’t deny them proper compensation or continue to put unwitting consumers in danger.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, July 13

Low pay takes its toll in state prison system

Missouri’s Department of Corrections’ lack of competitive pay is taking its toll.

We recently published a story detailing serious problems within the department that start with correction officers’ salaries.

These are people, like any law enforcement officers, who risk their safety - sometimes their lives - on our behalf. Within the prisons, they bring order to a sometimes ugly world that we rather never would see.

But their low pay, combined with a good economy, is thinning their ranks.

“It’s a $14-an-hour job, and a lot of the work out there now is $14-an-hour jobs,” said Gary Gross, director of the Missouri Corrections Officers Association. “People won’t do this work for that type of pay. The state has failed to keep up with pay scales.”

As a result, staff shortages are forcing employees to work - and the state to pay for - large amounts of overtime.

Throughout the state, the Department of Corrections has more than 11,200 corrections officer positions. Recently, 700 of the starting-level positions were open statewide.

Gross said inmate tensions are flaring as a result of the shortages. A protest occurred on July 4 at the Tipton Correctional Center, and inmates rioted in the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron in May. Gross said inmates are calling for a strike on Aug. 21 throughout the state.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said inmates apparently were upset over rules regulating such things as how many inmates can congregate in one place. She said the rules already were in place but recently had been enforced more strictly.

Gross said all state prisons, including the Jefferson City and Algoa Correctional Centers, severely are understaffed.

The Department of Corrections has been aggressively trying to recruit employees. It also has had what it calls a successful supervisor-development program aimed at improving the work environment and at retaining staff.

It’s a serious issue that state lawmakers should address as soon as possible.

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