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Prop A: Right to Work debate


On Aug. 7, voters get to decide the fate of Missouri’s right-to-work legislation. 

That legislation [Senate Bill 19] was signed into law on Monday, Feb. 5, 2017, by former Gov. Eric Greitens. On the same day, Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis and Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel filed a referendum petition with the secretary of state’s office to put the right to work issue on the ballot as Proposition A. 

At its core, SB19 seeks to amend Missouri law to prohibit, as a condition of employment, forced membership in a labor organization [union] or forced payments of dues or fees, in full or pro-rata [“fair-share”], to a union.

A “yes” vote on Prop A will confirm SB 19 as law and make Missouri a right-to-work state. A “no” vote will result in SB 19 not becoming law; Missouri will remain a non-right-to-work state. If passed, this measure will have no impact on taxes.

Both sides of the argument say the issue is more complicated than simply who pays union dues. Key talking points on both sides of the issue have been job growth and politics. Here’s what both sides want voters to know. 

Regarding job growth

Pat White Jr., president, Greater St. Louis Central Labor Council AFL-CIO

The opposition [those seeking a “yes” vote on Prop A] will tell you that Prop A is a job creator, but if you look at recent years … [you’ll see that] in 2016, Missouri outperformed every state around us. We have eight states around us and out of those eight states, only one, besides us, is not a right-to-work state and that’s Illinois. In the last data that we have, Missouri outperformed all of those states in job growth. 

The opposition is going to say look at Indiana, look at Michigan … those states have just become right to work in the last five or six years. What we’re trying to get folks to look at is Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma … The most recent state around us that went right to work, that wasn’t in the last few years, was Oklahoma and that was in 2001. Mississippi, I believe, was the first state. If you see what they spend on education, on their average wage, and just simple things like that, the way that folks live down there … living conditions are terrible, poverty levels are higher, on-the-job injuries and on-the-job deaths go up. On-the-job injuries go up, I want to say, 33 percent and on-the-job deaths, I know, go up over 50 percent and that’s not union or non-union, that’s everybody. 

Safety rules are just lax. No one is held accountable if you are on the job and the job is unsafe. If the worker tells the boss that the job is unsafe and the employer says, “Do it or you’re fired,” the worker has to do it. Now, if they have a union representative there or if they’re in a union, the worker can get off that job and call the union and say, “Listen, this guy wants me to …” Then, the union comes out and the worker doesn’t lose any pay and it gets settled.

As far as education goes, it’s proven that in non-right-to-work [union] states, education funding goes up by almost $8,000 a year. If there are more people paying into the tax base, there’s more money going to the school districts. Another key is that women in union jobs make 6 cents less an hour, but women in non-union jobs make 16 cents less per hour. It’s an equality thing, too. There’s just so many things that it lift ups … [and ] all of these things, in my opinion, outweigh the argument that right to work is a job creator. 

 Dan Mehan, president/CEO, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry

How many booms and busts have we had since [2001 when] right-to-work legislation was passed in Oklahoma, not just the 2008 financial meltdown, but booms and busts in the energy market? Oklahoma’s economy goes as the energy market does, so that ad [touting Oklahoma’s decline] in itself is extremely misleading. If you fact-check it, and we are, there is a definite need to challenge that argument. 

Evidence from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that from 2005-2015, job growth in right-to-work states was 8.6 percent and in non-right-to-work states was 5 percent. 

What labor will like to tell you is “they [employers] just want to pay you less money.” That’s completely false. Whether you look at West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana or Wisconsin – those four most-recent states to go right to work – there has never been one example that they [labor] have been able to deliver where somebody had their salary cut or their wages cut because they went right to work. It just doesn’t happen. 

In the same analysis, it shows that in that same time period, ‘05-’15, the percentage of wage growth was exactly identical, 7.7 percent, in right-to-work and non-right-to-work states. 

Furthermore, gross domestic product growth was 15.3 percent in right-to-work states and 11.9 percent in non-right-to-work states in that same time frame. 

It’s extremely important that we remain a right-to-work state so that Missouri can remain competitive with the rest of the country and, frankly, the rest of the world.

 Regarding politics

Mehan: What Prop A would do is uphold what the Missouri legislature passed and the governor signed into law in 2017 making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state in the union. And what right to work does is simply prohibit forcing someone to join a union and pay union dues, forcing them to forego part of their paycheck to give union bosses money to do whatever they want with and support political causes and the like [while] the rank and file really has no say in where their money is going. This is a freedom of speech issue … because once you have to pay a union you get little say in what that union does and it’s just enriching big labor bosses and supporting people like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, which they did. Labor unions overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid and a lot of people in labor unions certainly didn’t share that opinion; however, their money, part of their paycheck, went to that campaign without them having a say in it … Missourians need to decide if they want to support a political candidate not be forced to do so by being compelled to join a union and pay union dues. 

White Jr.: Most unions cannot spend money on a political campaign unless that money comes voluntarily through their members. I belong to the gas workers union [Local #11-6]. Our guys, including myself, gave a buck a week that went into a separate account for political reasons only. My union dues did not go toward politics at all. My union dues took care of rent at the union hall. My union dues took care of collective bargaining … the officers that we paid to represent us on a regular basis. Political action committees are voluntary donations and voluntary donations only. 


What voters know and need to know about Prop A

Mid Rivers Newsmagazine asked a sampling of voters, interviewed in Chesterfield Valley, what they know or think they know about Prop A and how each expected to vote.

Marsha replied, “Isn’t it the right to work?” She added that she really didn’t know how she would vote. “I’ve been leaning each way. We have a good friend whose whole family are union people and they’ve swayed me.”

Patrick replied,  “I know it’s a tax increase. I typically don’t vote on that because it doesn’t always necessarily get used for what you say, so typically as rule, I’d say no.”

Karen replied, “I don’t know anything [about Prop A].” Then, added, “I would vote no because I’m a school teacher and MSTA would be a part of my union and I would hate for people to say that they would have to go away.”

Jason Greer, a labor relations consultant/educator and president of Greer Consulting Inc., said what Prop A really comes down to is choice – the ability to choose to join a union or not – and the union’s fiduciary responsibility to represent all employees, dues-paying or not, when a union contract is present.

“I don’t think that either side has really given voters a nuts-and-bolts explanation of what Prop A is and what Prop A might mean,” Greer said. “This bill [SB 19] is really about a check and balance – and that check and balance is the hope that, if Missouri does go right to work, the state prospers economically as some states have prospered from going right to work. On one side, we’ve seen empirical numbers point out that union organizing actually went up in some right-to-work states. On the other side of that equation, some states have been negatively impacted by right to work and union density decreased.”

Greer said Prop A has become an emotional issue.

“I truly believe that the reason you see more yard signs saying, ‘vote no on Prop A,’ than those saying, ‘vote yes on Prop A,’ is because the union has thrown out enough tidbits for people to be enticed by the heart of the matter,” Greer said. 

But he added that when voters step into a voting booth, it may be time to put emotions aside.

“What I often tell people is, in this day and age of information [and] in so many ways, you can be your own best advocate,” Greer said. “Be mindful of your decision. When you vote, no one is going to be in the booth with you. It’s you. You have to make the most informed decision, not always the most emotional, but the most important decision as to what’s right for you and your family.”

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