JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The right-wing Republican-controlled Missouri legislature is at it once again. While clearly hell-bent on destroying workers’ rights, they also seem determined to undermine Missouri’s rebounding economy. So-called right-to-work (for less) legislation, which numerous different House and Senate bills have already been filed during the opening weeks of the 2015 legislative session, would accomplish both goals.
First, RTW is nothing more than a smoke screen for big business, anti-worker interests fixated on maximizing profits. They want to lower wages and cut benefits by weakening unions. It’s as simple as that. Don’t take my word for it. Compare Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports from so-called RTW states to non-RTW states.
According to the bureau, workers in RTW states make – on average – $5,500 less annually. That’s not chump change. Multiplied by hundreds of thousands of workers, that’s a huge shot in the arm to any state economy. That’s money spent locally – at mom and pop grocery stores, restaurants, bowling alleys and movie theatres. That’s money put directly back into our economy, not squirreled away in some off-shore tax haven.
Additionally, 78 percent of union work places provide health care coverage, while only 51 percent of non-union work places do. RTW would serve to weaken union negotiated employer provided benefits like health care, thereby shifting the cost of coverage onto tax payers and costing Missouri residents, and our economy, even more.
Second, $2,600 less per-student is spent in RTW states on public education. In effect, RTW would mean fewer teachers, fewer books, fewer after school programs and fewer opportunities for Missouri’s children.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest challenges facing the Show-Me State, and our country, is education. Our schools are already underfunded. RTW would only exacerbate the situation.
Arguably, most would-be employers, big businesses and corporations are more likely to shy away from Missouri due to a shrinking pool of skilled workers. In fact, when asked, most employers, cite education and job skills as the greatest obstacle to increased employment, not unions.
As one local union leader recently told me, “On many job sites it doesn’t matter if you’re union or non-union, if you don’t have the education, training and skills, you’re not getting the job. So-called right-to-work does nothing to help you get the education, training and skills. It does nothing to help you get the job.” In fact, unions are usually they only place many working class folks can gain the skills, education and hands-on experience necessary in today’s economy.
In short, an educated, skilled workforce is far more important to most employers, and will likely attract more good paying jobs.
The proof is in the pudding. According to the BLS the average weekly wage for the first quarter of 2014 was $866 in Missouri, while the average weekly wage was $840 in Kansas – a RTW state. That’s an extra $26 a week, or an extra $1,300 a year. That’s a lot of groceries.
If the right wing of the Republican Party in Missouri was serious about creating jobs they would stop attacking working families and their unions – year, after year, after year. If they were serious about creating jobs they would instead increase funding for our public schools, vocational programs and job training, not endlessly debate RTW; they would stop their phony posturing, cross the aisle and try working with unions for a change, instead of trying to destroy them.
Unfortunately, if the past is any indication, the right wing here in Missouri won’t take the opportunity this legislative session to do anything that benefits working people. It’s up to us, union workers, and non-union workers alike, to make our voices heard and stop this attack on unions, working families and our economy.
Photo: Darron Cummings/AP