An expert on labor says unions can survive Missouri’s all but certain move to become a right-to-work state in 2017.

Jake Rosenfeld Photo courtesy of Washington University

The Republican dominated legislature is poised to pass a measure establishing the status, while incoming GOP Governor Eric Greitens has indicated he’d quickly sign it into law.

Professor Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University in St. Louis points to Nevada as an example of a right to work state with robust union participation.

“Nevada workers who are covered by union contracts join the union” said Rosenfeld.  “They don’t have to.  It’s a right to work state, but upwards of 90 percent choose to do.”

Rosenfeld thinks organized labor in Missouri should look to Nevada as a model to follow.  He says Nevada has active and effective union leadership which keeps workers involved and motivated.

Right to work legislation lets workers opt out of paying union dues and still receive benefits and protections offered by the unions.  Those benefits typically include better wages and health coverage.

One of the right to work measure filed for the upcoming legislative session is sponsored by State Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston).  She says both union and non-union jobs would increase if her legislation passes.

“Indiana alone increased jobs, over 50,000 union jobs, good-paying union jobs they increased within two years of passing this bill. And so, what we have found is that the states that pass right-to-work, you have an influx of jobs” said Rehder.

Rosenfeld of Washington University dismisses this argument, noting Indiana was helped by good timing.  “Lots of states have experienced robust job growth in recent years as the economy has finally recovered from the great recession.  Indiana just happens to be one of those states that passed a right to work law along that time.”

Rosenfeld points out there are also plenty of example where right to work laws haven’t created job growth.  “You don’t hear much from proponents of right to work talking about the Alabama model or the Mississippi, also right to work states, with some of the highest unemployment rates in the land.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is a vocal advocate of making Missouri a right to work state.  Chamber President Dan Mehan claims states that have “turned to right to work” have experienced job growth.  Rosenfeld says the contention is not backed up by the facts.

“The research investigating any linkages between right to work and job growth or wage growth or unemployment shows that these are a phenomenon that largely aren’t linked.”

Rosenfeld believes right to work laws are designed to weaken unions.  He says organized labor could prepare for the reality of right to work being implemented in Missouri by taking proactive steps.  “What’s happening in Nevada is the model for unions to grab onto going forward”

Meanwhile, Representative Rehder, who’s sponsoring right to work legislation, notes organized labor is already on the decline in Missouri.  She says union membership was about 30 percent in 1978, and says it’s less than eight percent today.