What do labor unions mean to you?
Most of us were raised with the belief that if you work hard, you should be able to get ahead. There are no guarantees that it will be easy, or that there won’t be some obstacles in your way, but in the end, you will be able to build a better life for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, this belief is closer to a fantasy than a reality for far too many people in our community and across the country.
Every day, we see stories about corporations having record breaking corporate profits, stock market windfalls, and their top executives bringing home jaw-dropping salaries. At the same time, we know that many of their hard-working employees will not make enough to cover all their expenses and their family’s dreams of a brighter future will continue to fade. This isn’t fair, this isn’t right, and we cannot stand back and let this continue.
This is why I am a passionate, unapologetic, and proud supporter of the men and women of organized labor. Because everyone deserves honest wages, appropriate benefits, and financial stability. History teaches us that the way to achieve these basic, but essential goals, is to ensure that workers have a voice.
How does your work impact working people?
As County Executive, I am responsible for overseeing our workforce of over 1,000 full-time associates. In addition, Jackson County invests millions of dollars annually in various public improvement projects, service contracts, and product purchases throughout the county and region. The decisions we make as a county have a direct impact on the well-being of our staff and their families, open new opportunities to contractors and ensure we adequately fulfill the service needs of Jackson County residents to help make their lives easier. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Government exists for one purpose – to make things better for all people.” She’s absolutely right and that is what we strive for every day.
What are some of your proudest moments in your time at the County?
I am most proud of the progress that we have been able to make for our workforce. When I was sworn in as County Executive, we had many members of our staff who were only making $7 or $8 an hour. I heard numerous stories of our full-time associates on public assistance, living in shelters, and relying upon foodbanks to feed their families. At the same time, I was learning that our departments were struggling to fill vacant positions, turnover was very high, and our staff’s morale was at an all-time low.
We had to do better and I’m proud to say we did. First, we brought in national experts to study our compensation practices and give us recommendations to make our pay competitive with the market. Following their analysis, and in partnership with the County Legislature, we were able to fully implement their plan. Today, no full-time County Associate makes less than $15 an hour.
Finally, I believe it is important for us to not only provide a decent wage for our county associates, but we also must provide benefits to support them and their families. Today, Jackson County associates have access to comprehensive fertility services through our health insurance plan, as well as 12-weeks of paid family leave for the birth or adoption of a child for both mothers and fathers, regardless of sexual orientation.
Any labor leaders that you find significant?
One year before I tried out for the Kansas City Royals, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they had traded one of their best players, Curt Flood, to the Philadelphia Phillies. According to the rules of baseball at the time Curt Flood had been, in essence, the property of the St. Louis Cardinals since the day he signed with the team in 1956. He was not allowed to sign with another team and if he was traded, he either had to go or retire. Curt Flood chose a different path.
Curt Flood went to the director of the Baseball Players’ Association and asked them to take Major League Baseball to court for the right to seek employment anywhere you like, just like anyone else. Sadly, the union did not believe he would be successful and decided not to support him in his efforts. They also warned him that he would never get a job in baseball if decided to pursue this on his own. He understood that they were probably right, but he knew his actions would benefit others.
While Curt Flood was ultimately unable to convince a majority of the Supreme Court, he was able to shine a light on the unfair labor practices in Major League Baseball. Ultimately, his selfless actions led to what we now know as “free-agency” in Major League Baseball. While he never personally benefited and is often overlooked for his contribution, Curt Flood’s courageous and principled actions on behalf of his fellow workers epitomizes a true labor leader to me.
What do you see for the future of Jackson County?
We like to say that we are building a better and more equitable Jackson County. But that is not just a catchy line. It’s a truth we are actively working toward and we aren’t done yet. We will continue to invest in our staff to ensure they receive the pay, benefits, and support that they need and deserve. We will continue to invest in our facilities to ensure that our associates and the public have facilities they are proud of. We will continue to invest in our community to ensure that everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are from, has a safety net of support should they ever need it.
By getting back to the basics – investing in our staff, our facilities, and improving the service we provide to taxpayers – we are building a better and more equitable Jackson County, and I could not be more excited for what’s to come!