Show-Me state weighs worker-choice

Lawmakers are proposing a change to labor laws that would establish Missouri as a right-to-work state. In January, Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, introduced legislation - HB 1811 - that would prohibit agreements between unions and employers requiring some workers to pay union dues as a condition of being hired.

In Missouri and 27 other so-called labor-states, workers and employers now have the right to negotiate union security clauses when a majority of workers at a site signify that they want to form a union. Under the union security clause, non-union employees are required to pay fees or dues for the economic benefits from union representation but not the costs of the union’s political, legislative, social and charitable activities. The bill sponsored by Hunter essentially would make any union security clause null and void if it required employees to join a union and pay fees to that union or any third party as a condition of employment.

Last month the bill was referred to the Special Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety, where it still waits for a hearing date to be set. Hunter, who chairs the committee, has been unsuccessful in the past with similar right-to-work bills.

Herb Johnson, secretary-treasurer of Missouri AFL-CIO, said it is the same bill Hunter has introduced in the past, and it has failed to gain widespread support.

"I don’t believe it has any traction," Johnson said.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, who co-sponsored the bill, said support is growing because of the struggling manufacturing industry in the state.

He said that in 1970, the automobile industry in Missouri was second only to Michigan, but today "we’re not in the top 10 anymore, and the reason is we’re not a right-to-work state."

According to the National Right to Work Committee, 22 states have passed right-to-work laws, including all but two - Illinois and Kentucky - of the eight states that border Missouri.

Greg Mourad, legislative director for the National Right to Work Committee, said right-to-work states have experienced greater job growth. He said that Oklahoma, which passed a right-to-work law in 2001, went from last to first in the nation in job growth.

"A lot of companies will not even consider moving into non-right-to-work states," Mourad said.

Johnson said that contrary to arguments made by right-to-work advocates, "open shop" laws like the one proposed by Hunter hurt workers by allowing non-union members to receive union benefits without paying into the system, which results in lower wages, less health-care and retirement benefits.

"In Missouri, … we believe we have a fair law," Johnson said, but Hunter and his supporters want to change it "because it weakens unions."

Robb said the driving force behind the right-to-work bill centers around making Missouri an attractive state to automotive and other industries looking to expand or relocate.

"We’re at a competitive disadvantage," he said. "I’m not anti-union," but "whether it weakens the unions is irrelevant."

Mourad said the National Right to Work Committee will offer all the support it can to help pass the bill in Missouri.

"I know that Representative Hunter is very dedicated to it," he said.

"We have a lot of work to do," but "we certainly would like to see a roll call" vote "this session."


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