Government & Politics

Hoping to vote on Missouri right-to-work referendum? It may be in August

Opponents of right to work marched to the Missouri secretary of state's office in August 2017 to drop off petitions seeking a vote to repeal the law.
Opponents of right to work marched to the Missouri secretary of state's office in August 2017 to drop off petitions seeking a vote to repeal the law. jhancock@kcstar.com

Missourians planning to weigh in on the state's right-to-work law may need to show up to the polls in August, not November.

The House voted 96-47 Thursday to move a referendum that could repeal the law from the November election to the August primary ballot. Senators passed it 23-7 last week. All it needs is the signature of Gov. Eric Greitens, who has been supportive of right to work and signed it into law.

Under the state's law, which has yet to go into effect, employees could not be compelled to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. They could opt out of paying dues for representation if they don't join the union.

The law's implementation was halted when opponents gathered more than 310,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot. Republicans say moving up the date would get the vote out of the way and bring certainty. Critics say it's an effort to give Republican-backed right to work an advantage in a low-turnout primary election.

"That really inserted uncertainty for businesses and business owners looking at the state," said Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston. "To me, I think that we need to get this voted on as soon as possible and put this behind us."

The referendum, Proposition A, could overturn the right-to-work law Missouri lawmakers passed last year. Voting "yes" would uphold right to work. "No" would repeal it.

We Are Missouri, a campaign working to repeal right to work, took issue with House members' vote to move the date, saying supporters of right to work "have one ultimate goal: lowering Missouri wages."

"Anyone who has been paying attention to what has been going on in Jefferson City knows the level of dishonesty and dysfunction and this is no different," We Are Missouri spokeswoman Erin Schrimpf said in a statement. "Proposition A is wrong for Missouri."

Schrimpf said right to work "fails to create jobs and forces workers to accept lower pay."

Those hoping to repeal the law argue that moving the vote is an effort by Republicans to give right to work an advantage, but they have said they're still confident Missouri voters will repeal the law.

"We are confident that come August 7, Missourians will protect their pay by voting no on Proposition A," Schrimpf said.

Mike Louis, president of the AFL-CIO, took a neutral stance at a House committee hearing on moving the date despite saying the change is an effort to "thwart" the people. He said he thought voters would repeal the law anyway.

"We just think it's wrong that the legislature continues to try to do things that disenfranchise voters," Louis said.

During floor debate, Rehder said she thought Missourians had "voted on right to work over and over again" because they supported Republican lawmakers who she says ran on right to work.

"I feel that when you look at the majority of representatives who voted for this and if their districts support them, then you do have a majority of Missourians that are for this law," Rehder said.

Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis, pushed back, saying every lawmaker ran on multiple platforms.

An effort to put a pro-right-to-work Constitutional amendment on the ballot has been speeding through the General Assembly. It would cement right to work in the state Constitution rather than mere statute. That effort began after a committee called Freedom to Work failed to get enough signatures to put a pro-right-to-work amendment on the ballot despite spending $750,000.

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