Influence of organized labor gets big test in Missouri vote

6 months 1 week 4 days ago Sunday, August 05 2018 Aug 5, 2018 Sunday, August 05, 2018 2:11:00 PM CDT August 05, 2018 in News
By: The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) - On the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling weakening public-sector unions, labor's clout is being put to a new test by a voter referendum in Missouri over whether the state should ban compulsory union fees in all private-sector workplaces.

The statewide vote in Tuesday's primary on a so-called right-to-work law could be a watershed moment for unions, if they can halt what has been a steady erosion of strength in states with historically deep-rooted support.

"The timing of this is essential. I think everyone wants to write the labor movement's obituary," national AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler said. But "it's going to energize and activate us and show that we fight back."

If they lose that fight, Missouri will become the 28th state with a law that prohibits labor groups and employers from forcing workers to pay mandatory union fees.

The so-called "fair share fees," which are less than full dues, are intended to cover unions' nonpolitical costs such as collective bargaining because federal law requires unions to represent even employees who don't join. Eliminating those fees is expected to reduce unions' overall finances and potentially their influence.

That's one reason why unions from across the country are engaged in Tuesday's vote. Heading into the final week of campaigning, a labor-led group already had spent over $15 million against Proposition A, outspending supporters by a more than 3-to-1 margin.

The issue has become highly partisan in recent years.

Most state right-to-work laws were enacted shortly after they were permitted by the 1947 federal Taft-Hartley Act. But there's been a recent surge of such laws as Republicans have strengthened their hold on state governments, starting with an Indiana law in 2012 and followed by ones in Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Labor unions typically support Democratic candidates. In states where they remain strong, such as California, they sometimes are seen as having undue influence over Democratic lawmakers and governors.

Missouri's Republican-led legislature and governor enacted a right-to-work law in 2017, but it never took effect because unions gathered enough petition signatures to force a referendum — essentially giving voters a chance to veto it.

The vote originally was planned for November but was switched by GOP lawmakers to the August primary in a maneuver that prevented an anticipated heavy union turnout from coinciding with Republican efforts to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Tuesday's vote comes amid uncertainty about the future of organized labor in the U.S. In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Illinois state government worker could not be forced to pay collective bargaining fees to a union, essentially establishing a right-to-work policy for public-sector workers in all states.

That decision turned the spotlight to Missouri as the first place where voters subsequently will decide whether to enact a similar ban for private-sector unions.

"It's the next battle, if you will, in this ongoing fight to end compulsory unionism in America," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, which backed the Illinois lawsuit.

As of late July, the National Right to Work Committee had spent about $2.2 million on behalf of Missouri's ballot measure, nearly half the total amount spent by supporters.

Proponents and opponents have combined to spend more than $20 million on Proposition A, even though union members comprised just 8.7 percent of Missouri's workforce last year and 10.7 percent nationally. Missouri's private-sector unionization rate of 7.5 percent was a percentage point higher than the national average.

Many of Missouri's top unionized employers — including The Boeing Co. and Ford Motor Co. — have taken no position on Proposition A. But unions that represent their employees have helped canvass neighborhoods, put up yard signs and make phone calls in opposition to it.

"Prop A is nothing but a tool for the large corporations to be able to take away the power of the unions to negotiate fair, respectful wages," said Stephen McDerman, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 837, which represents many Boeing employees.

K&S Wire Products Inc., a non-union manufacturer that employs about 110 people in Neosho, in the state's southwest corner, is one of the few businesses to directly contribute to the campaign for the ballot measure.

"If you treat your employees right, just like if you treat your children right, they don't need to go find somebody else to represent them as mommy and daddy," said K&S President Gene Schwartz, whose company gave $7,500 to Missourians for Freedom to Work.

The advertising campaigns for and against the referendum have generally focused on economics, with supporters claiming that right-to-work policies lead to more jobs and opponents claiming they drive down wages.

Studies have found mixed and sometimes conflicting results.

The Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, which opposes right-to-work, found that wages in right-to-work states average 3.1 percent less than elsewhere after accounting for other workforce differences such as educational backgrounds, racial composition, the industrial makeup of employers and the cost of living. For someone earning $40,000 annually, that would mean $1,240 less per year.

"By deliberately creating a 'free-rider' problem for unions, right-to-work starves unions and thus starves their ability to boost wages for workers," said Heidi Shierholz, the institute's senior economist and policy director.

A study by economists Ozkan Eren of Louisiana State University and Serkan Ozbeklik of Claremont McKenna College in California used data from states with similar characteristics to analyze the effect of right-to-work in Oklahoma. It was the last state to adopt such a law by a statewide ballot measure, in 2001.

The researchers found the law resulted in a significant reduction in private-sector unionization rates but had no short-term effect on either the total unemployment rate or average private-sector wages.

The study noted that Oklahoma had comparatively low unionization rates even before right-to-work.

Nationwide union membership rates have been steadily falling for decades and are now less than half what they were in 1978, when Missouri voters last defeated a right-to-work proposal.

If unions help defeat it again, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Dan Mehan said supporters simply would "come back and reload on it when the time is right."

But labor leaders hope Missouri will become "like a wall" that reverses the direction of the right-to-work movement. Shuler, the AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, said unions have been discussing the potential of launching ballot initiatives in other states to repeal existing right-to-work laws.

"We should use that opportunity to actually get out of this crouch — or the defensive posture — and go on offense," she said.

More News

Grid
List
SARCOXIE, Mo. (AP) — The Jasper County prosecutor on Thursday charged a 23-year-old English teacher at Sarcoxie High School with... More >>
1 hour ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 9:56:18 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Battle High School's Girls Wrestling team will make history by competing in the first high school girls state... More >>
2 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 8:56:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - The first snow system is coming to an end and two more are on the way in less... More >>
2 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 8:25:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in Weather
COLUMBIA - Despite the treacherous conditions, some people have no choice but to drive in weather like Friday's. "My... More >>
4 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 6:48:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA — The Humane Society of Missouri rescued 21 dogs and 21 cats from a property in western Missouri Friday.... More >>
5 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 5:42:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Another winter blast hit Missouri Friday, causing multiple accidents, closing schools and leaving highway experts... More >>
6 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 4:03:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in Top Stories
CALLAWAY COUNTY - A traffic stop for following too close led to troopers seizing oxycodone, THC wax, shatter, a product... More >>
7 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 3:04:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY — Ameren Missouri said several thousand jobs will be created as part of an effort to upgrade its... More >>
9 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 1:49:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in Top Stories
COLUMBIA – The cold weather doesn't just affect road conditions, but fuel economy as well. According to the U.S Department... More >>
9 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 1:48:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump and border security (all times local): 2:33 p.m. President... More >>
9 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 1:43:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
CAMDENTON (AP) — The parents of two suburban Kansas City victims of a Lake of the Ozarks boat crash have... More >>
9 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 1:14:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Agencies across mid-Missouri are responding to snowfall. Updates appear here in reverse chronological order, with the newest... More >>
10 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 12:20:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Attorneys for Sen. Josh Hawley asked a Cole County judge to quash a subpoena in connection with... More >>
11 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 11:32:00 AM CST February 15, 2019 in News
MEXICO, Mo. — The Mexico Public Safety Department responded to a fire at 1:19 a.m. Friday at the Hardee’s on... More >>
15 hours ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 7:02:00 AM CST February 15, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Approaching winter weather may have an impact on the Missouri State High School Wrestling Championships. The championships... More >>
1 day ago Thursday, February 14 2019 Feb 14, 2019 Thursday, February 14, 2019 10:07:00 PM CST February 14, 2019 in News
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress lopsidedly approved a border security compromise Thursday that would avert a second painful government shutdown. However,... More >>
1 day ago Thursday, February 14 2019 Feb 14, 2019 Thursday, February 14, 2019 7:51:00 PM CST February 14, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - The head of a physicians group says the sale of St. Mary's Hospital to MU Health Care... More >>
1 day ago Thursday, February 14 2019 Feb 14, 2019 Thursday, February 14, 2019 7:43:00 PM CST February 14, 2019 in News
COOPER COUNTY - Two months later and no arrests have been made related to the homicide of a Sioux Falls... More >>
1 day ago Thursday, February 14 2019 Feb 14, 2019 Thursday, February 14, 2019 6:12:00 PM CST February 14, 2019 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 17°
11pm 19°
12am 19°
1am 18°
2am 17°