Right-to-work opponents still fighting law

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JEFFERSON CITY – Following a lawsuit, an initial rejection that set their efforts back and growing frustration among union leaders, right-to-work opponents have begun an historic effort to overturn a controversial bill Gov. Eric Greitens signed into law.

They want to put the measure on the 2018 ballot, so voters can decide whether Missouri should indeed become a right-to-work state. In order to make that happen, the labor unions must collect signatures from 5 percent of voters in two-thirds of Missouri’s congressional districts.

That means they need an estimated 140,000 signatures before the August 26 deadline.

Mike Louis, the president of Missouri’s branch of the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), said he believes his team will far exceed that number. 

“I think we’ll double it,” Louis said.

Union workers and volunteers will gather in Jefferson City Wednesday evening for a training session in door-to-door signature-collecting.

It’s been more than 30 years since Missouri voters saw anything like a signed law on the ballot. But, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, there have been 26 similar referenda since 1914, and Missouri voters have rejected all but two of the laws.

Louis said that puts history on the side of right-to-work opponents. 

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston sponsored the right-to-work bill out of the House. She said small businesses live in fear of the unions.

“I’m a small business owner, myself,” Rehder said.

She said small businesses fear they could lose their entire operation if a strike were to randomly occur.

Rehder also said she believes unions used to play an important role, but that forced unionization is only hurting Missouri workers today. She said she does not expect opponents of right-to-work to garner enough signatures before the August deadline.

The team meeting Wednesday night in Jefferson City was allowed to begin collecting signatures on April 4, after the Secretary of State approved a petition from Louis and NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. to put right-to-work on the ballot.

Union supporters were dealt a blow when Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office initially rejected the petition. In a letter, Hawley said that he rejected it because parts of the proposal were not properly punctuated and underlined. The group then refilled the petition, got it approved and were told they could begin collecting signatures earlier this month.

A lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Cole County by two right-to-work supporters. It said the language in the measure was problematic.

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft defended the petition with this statement:

“I am saddened that some are playing politics with the right of the people to exercise their constitutional right, and I am confident the court will quickly and correctly let the will of the people decide this issue,” Ashcroft said.

Louis said he believes the lawsuit is an attempt to keep Missouri voters from being able to exercise their constitutional right to vote on right-to-work.

“It’s a ploy to keep us from being able to collect signatures, so we have as little time as possible,” Louis said. “All they’re trying to do is take away the right from people.”

Louis said the lawsuit won’t affect the team’s current signature-collection efforts, and that he does not expect it to gain any traction in court.