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Missouri becomes the first state to vote to reject “right to work”

Here’s why it matters–and why it might signal a broader dissatisfaction with anti-union policies.

Missouri becomes the first state to vote to reject “right to work”
[Photo: hermosawave/iStock]

In the state’s primary elections on Tuesday, August 7, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly voted against the right-to-work bill, becoming the the first-ever state to reject a right-to-work law. Right-to-work laws ban unions from collecting compulsory fees in private-sector workplaces where they represent the workers.

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These laws, which have been adopted in 27 states, leave private-sector unions with less financial resources for collective bargaining, limit their power, and tend to be favored by conservative legislators. A 2015 study from the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., found that wages in right-to-work states tended to lag 3.1% behind pay in states where unions can collect dues from all employees.

Eric Greitens, the former governor of Missouri who resigned in June in the midst of accusations of campaign-finance violations and a criminal investigation into sexual misconduct, signed a bill into law in January 2017, making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state in the U.S. Unions in the state swiftly opposed the bill, organizing a petition that garnered more than 300,000 signatures calling for the issue to be decided via referendum.

The Republican-controlled state House shifted the vote to the primary from the general in November, mistakenly thinking that the lower-turnout election would yield a more favorable result for them. But approximately 67% of the state voted against Greitens’s bill, effectively killing it. Unions in Missouri and nationwide, according to The Associated Press, spent around $15 million campaigning against right-to-work laws in the state, on the grounds that such policies tend to drive down employee wages.

This vote follows the Janus v. AFSCME decision that came down in late June, in which the Supreme Court ruled that public-sector unions cannot require non-union employees to pay dues to cover collective bargaining, essentially making all government jobs right-to-work. By barring public-sector unions from collecting dues from all of the employees they represent, the Janus ruling could hobble the power and reach of unions, and make it more difficult for them to effectively lobby on behalf of the workers they support.

While Missouri voters overwhelmingly went for Trump in 2016, the fact that these same voters expressed such unified dissatisfaction with a hallmark conservative policy is significant, but not the first sign of anti-labor policies falling out of favor in red states. The teacher strikes which spread throughout the country this past spring emerged out of frustration with years of conservative policies that constricted wages and benefits for public employees. With even the most blood-red parts of Missouri, such as St. Charles County, opposing anti-union legislation, perhaps right-to-work–long a core aim of the Republican party–is losing its footing among those voters.

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About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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