Missouri may become latest Right-to-Work (for less) state

If Republican lawmakers get their way, Missouri may become the 25th state in the nation to impose a so-called ‘Right-to-Work’ law.

The House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee debated the issue in early February, with hundreds of union members and their supporters packed into the Committee hearing room and surrounding hallways to voice their opposition to the legislation.

House Bill 77, the RTW bill sponsored by Eric Burlison (R-Springfield), would weaken unions by allowing freeloaders – people who don’t pay union dues – to benefit from a union negotiated contract, grievance procedure, health and pension benefits, and higher wages all without paying their fair share.

Supporters of HB77 disingenuously call it the ‘Freedom to Work’ Act. They claim, baselessly, that RTW will create jobs in Missouri.

The facts, however, paint an entirely different picture, as two-thirds of the states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW states.

‘Right-To-Work’ states not only have a higher unemployment rate, but workers in those states are also paid about $1,500 less per-year than their counterparts in non-RTW states.

Additionally, workers in RTW states are less likely to have health care, pensions, sick leave and paid vacation. Furthermore, the rate of workplace deaths is 52.9 percent higher in RTW states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the hearing, Missouri AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Mike Louis, said, “‘Right-To-Work’ does not guarantee any rights or any jobs.”

“In fact, by weakening unions and collective bargaining, it destroys the best job security protection that exists – a union contract.”

Furthermore, most economists argue that our fragile economy and hopeful recovery is being stymied by a lack of consumer purchasing power. Union workers making higher wages spend more of their disposable income thereby creating more demand and stimulating the economy.

Lower wages and higher unemployment caused by RTW would hurt the economy. RTW is bad for Missouri’s economy generally, not just for union workers, as it drives down wages and spending power.

While a majority of Missourians have repeatedly rejected RTW legislation, Republicans continue to re-introduce it into the legislature every year, like ALEC sponsored puppets.

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is a right-wing corporate funded front group with millions of dollars at its disposal to re-write state laws with cookie-cutter anti-worker legislation.

In fact, ALEC member, Bill Lant, chairs the Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee – which lead many people in the hearing to wonder if he supports HB 77 because his constituents support it or because ALEC and its big business funders support it.

State representative, Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis), grilled Lant on the subject and said, “I’m just trying to figure out if your constituents asked for this bill, or if a company in your district asked for it, or if the republican leadership asked for it.”

Hummel, who is also a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1, was first denied his right to speak at the hearing by the Committee chair; it was only after Hummel got the rule book that Lant consented.

Dave Cook, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union (UFCW) Local 655 called the committee and its chair “disingenuous.”

He said, “You’ve created a new tagline – ‘Freedom to Work’ – in an outright effort to trick the public. Why don’t you have the guts to call it what it is – a freeloader bill.”

While Republicans to have a veto-proof majority in the Missouri legislature, many union members believe enough Republicans – if contacted enough times by their constituents, many of whom are union members – will distance themselves from the RTW legislation denying them a veto proof majority, which will give democratic governor Jay Nixon an opportunity to block the law if it does pass the House and Senate.

There is currently an alphabet soup of RTW, and other anti-worker laws, being proposed in the general assembly; HB 77 isn’t the only one. Republicans have also introduced RTW bills HB91, HB95, SB76 and SB134, as well as, two bills on prevailing wage, SB68 and SB30 and one bill on paycheck deception.

The labor movement here is gearing-up for a fight back. Meetings have been held on RTW at the St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo Central Labor Councils, and the MO AFL-CIO is planning a two-day labor legislative conference in Jefferson City – our state capital – in late March, among numerous other activities.

All union members and their supporters are being asked to call and write their representatives to let them know that ‘Right-to-Work is WRONG for Missouri.’

Photo: Paul Sancya/AP


Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.