A controversial “right to work” bill, which is expected to take center stage in the Missouri General Assembly’s veto session next week, is part of a long-term effort by right-wing interests to cripple union strength around the nation. It bodes poorly for Missouri workers and the state’s economy and must not be passed over Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto.
Republican lawmakers, who have been schooled on right-to-work legislation as they are wined and dined at events hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council and other corporate-funded groups, managed to pass a bill this session after several years of trying. It would enable workers not only to refuse to join a union — which is their right under federal law — but to also avoid paying union fees.
Right-to-work laws first caught on in the South in the 1940’s and were in part motivated by pro-segregationist and anti-Communist fervor. They are now a favorite cause of certain “free-market” groups and have been passed in half the states.
Proponents argue that workers should not have to pay dues or fees in exchange for their labor. But that arrangement is hardly unique. Lawyers, physicians, accountants and other professionals routinely pay mandatory fees to credentialing organizations.
States that have enacted right-to-work laws have seen erosion in union membership and bargaining power. That, of course, is the point.
After allowing for regional economic and demographic variables, wages in right-to-work states are 3.2 percent lower than in states without the anti-union laws, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute, which advocates on behalf of workers. Health benefits and pensions are also less robust.
Right-to-work supporters say the laws improve a state’s business climate. But little solid evidence supports that claim, and some studies suggest the opposite.
The truth is that unions are a crucial economic development partner for Missouri. They provide valuable apprenticeships and job training. They screen and drug-test workers and set and enforce safety standards. Those are important functions that employers and the state would have to pick up if unions are denied a reliable revenue flow.
Missouri needs unions. At a time when hard-working people are demanding livable wages and a measure of security for their families, it should not become the 26th state to undermine collective bargaining.