By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri will not be following on the heels of Wisconsin with the adoption of a so-called right-to-work law.
The steady march of new right-to-work laws in Republican-led states hit a wall in the Show Me State on Tuesday when voters resoundingly rejected a measure that could have weakened union finances after national and local labor groups poured millions of dollars into the campaign against it.
Missouri’s law against compulsory union fees was defeated on Tuesday by a 2-to-1 margin. That was nearly a year after the proposal had originally been scheduled to take effect after being adopted both by the Missouri governor and Legislature. Rather than becoming the law of the land, right to work was eventually put on hold after unions successfully petitioned to force a public referendum on the policy.
The election results effectively vetoed the Missouri law and halted a string of stinging losses for organized labor. Since 2012, five other once historically strong union states—including Wisconsin—had adopted right-to-work laws as Republicans gained strength in state capitols. Twenty seven states now have the laws.
The Missouri referendum marked the first chance for voters to weigh in on union powers since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that public-sector employees cannot be compelled to pay fees to unions. Missouri’s ballot measure essentially would have extended that to all private-sector employees in the state.
“Working people made their voices heard at the ballot box today and overturned right to work. It’s a truly historic moment,” said Mike Louis, president of the Missouri chapter of the AFL-CIO.
Missouri voters had last rejected right to work in 1978, when the percentage of the workforce in unions was more than double the current rate of 10.7 percent.
Responding to the vote on Tuesday, business groups and conservative interest groups pledged to try again to enact right to work in Missouri, possibly as soon as the 2019 legislative session.
“The defeat of Proposition A is merely a minor setback on the road to providing workers with the freedom they deserve,” said Jeremy Cady, the Missouri director of Americans for Prosperity, which is part of the conservative Koch network.
At issue in the debate over right-to-work laws are so-called fair-share fees, which are collected at a rate that is less than that for full dues and are intended solely to cover unions’ nonpolitical costs such as collective bargaining. Labor groups say it’s fair for them to collect the fees, since federal law requires them to represent even employees who are not union members. But supporters of right-to-work laws counter that people should have the right to accept a job without being required to pay a union.
Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed a right-to-work bill in February 2017. It was supposed to take effect as law on Aug. 28. But before that could happen, union organizers managed to gather enough petition signatures to put the policy before voters in a statewide referendum.
Right-to-work supporters had been counting on Greitens to help draw money and attention to their campaign. But Greitens resigned amid a scandal on June 1 and disappeared from the public view.
Unions managed to put together an opposition campaign that, by late July, had spent more than $15 million, well over three times as much as various groups that support right-to-work. Ads run in the campaign were generally about economics; as happened when a similar debate was raging in Wisconsin, supporters of right to work argued such a law would lead to more jobs, whereas opponents argued it would drive down wages.