Debate rages in final hours before Missouri votes on "Right to Work" proposal

Marc LaVoie
August 06, 2018 - 5:00 am
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Both sides in the Right to Work debate have less than a day to make their cases to Missouri voters, who will decide Tuesday whether to allow the law to take effect.

The law, which was passed and signed by then-Gov. Eric Greitens in 2017, would forbit unions from extracting fees from workers without their consent. Pro-union groups gathered signatures for a petition that forced the referendum and millions of dollars has gone toward a campaign to defeat Right to Work in Missouri.

A key argument against the law is the fact that workers in Right to Work states are paid about 3 percent less and receive fewer benefits than their counterparts in states that are friendlier to unions, said Erin Schrimpf, spokeswoman for We Are Missouri. 

"I think that lower wages is wrong for workers and working families, and we believe that the whole entire reason the enormous amount of interest in Right to Work is pushed by corporate interests, because you lower wages, you can increase your bottom line, you can increase corporate profits," Schrimpf said.

Wages are an average of $8,700 lower per year in Right to Work states, Schrimpf said. 

But the cost of living in non-Right to Work states, said Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability at the Show Me Institute. Higher wages does not necessarily mean a better standard of living. 

"There's a big difference between the wages and what you can actually buy with them in New York versus what you can in Kansas," Ishmael said. "There are a lot of other factors that go into a lot of the electioneering that has been put out."

Missouri is at a disadvantage in job creation without Right to Work, Ishmael said, citing a report that shows Nissan, Kia and BMW all declined to operate in Missouri, at least partly because of its labor laws.

A Right to Work law would not sound a death knell for unions in Missouri, Ishmael said. 

"(The GM Fairfax Plant) in KCK is obviously in a Right to Work state, and yet they have, I think 98 percent union membership," Ishmael said.

The right has been disingenuous in its characterization of Right to Work, Schrimpf said. She calls the term a misnomer.

"You cannot force someone to join a union as a condition of employment," Schrimpf said. "What happens, if you choose not to join the union and the union is the collective bargaining agent in the workplace, is that you may have to pay what we call agency fees."

If the voter repeal fails Missouri becomes the nation's 28th Right to Work state. The only contiguous neighbor of Missouri without a Right to Work law is Illinois.

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