Missouri Votes on Right-to-Work – Again

Auckland       Unbelievably, workers and their families, and, well, everyone registered to vote once again has to go to the polls on the whether or not businesses can impose so-called right-to-work legislation in Missouri. This isn’t the first time.In the last 50 years, if memory serves, unions have had to beat back these corporate challenges at least twice, and thus far always been successful.

Missouri is simply one barometer of how contentious this issue continues to be since the first right-to-work laws were passed after Taft-Hartley kicked the ball over to the states in the 1950s when previously union shops, and even closed shops, had been allowed. Many southern states led the right-to-work train. Louisiana was the last to fall twenty years later in 1976.  The anti-union, anti-worker push has continued to grow extending right-to-work even to the bastion of Michigan. Now, there are 23 states and the District of Columbia that allow union shop provisions and 27 that are right-to-work.

Right-to-work has nothing to do with work or getting a job. The title has been clever – and effective political marketing.Right-to-work legislation simply means that when unions represent workers in collective bargaining agreements they have the ability to negotiate with their employers certain fees for the mandatory representation obligation that is the responsibility of unions under the exclusive representation interpretation that has emerged under decisions of the National Labor Relations Act.Economic studies find that workers in right-to-work states make an average of 3.1% less in wages.

Unions are hardened to this fight in Missouri.  The conservative, Republican legislature passed a right-to-work statue during the last term of the legislature that was promptly signed by the Republican governor.  Labor and their allies quickly got more than 300,000 signatures to repeal the legislative action on the ballot. The right-to-work proponents played the last trick in their hand by scheduling the vote in the August primaries where there would be fewer base voters than the November midterm general elections, so the vote is coming now.

In a rarity union backed groups have outspent their opponents, raising almost $12 million to the over $3 million that anti-union groups have pulled together according to the Missouri Election Commission. Some odds favor the momentum of labor in this ballot.Missouri’s “show me” voters have tended to reject legislative acts when they have the chance to have their voice heard by voting.Anti-worker business interests are hoping they still have some steam in their tank in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision that recently eliminated agency fee agreements for public employees. The Wall Street Journal has reported that 24,000 public workers in Pennsylvania and 31,000 in New York ceased fee payments potentially cost unions more than $16 million in dues revenue.

Class struggle seems to never have an expiration date, and in Missouri it shows its ugly face every decade or so in the struggle over right-to-work.I’m betting on unions and workers again, but it’s never a sure thing.

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