The Missouri House has given initial approval to a so-called Right to Work proposal, with little drama and an unusually slim presence of union workers there to watch. House members voted 101 to 58, largely along party lines, in favor of the bill. Bill sponsor Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) tells Missourinet a final vote on the bill is expected in the House on Thursday.

Reps. Holly Rehder and Clem Smith

During his State of the State address on Tuesday, Governor Eric Greitens (R) said Missouri must join 27 other states and pass Right to Work legislation.

The measure would stop unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues. Rehder says union membership and jobs have increased in states with Right to Work laws.

“Since becoming Right to Work in 2012, Michigan has added 58,000 manufacturing jobs. Over the past two years, Missouri has lost 1,200,” says Rehder.

Rehder cites stats from the Union Membership and Earnings Database. It says from 2005 to 2015, union memberships in Right to Work states increased by 7.6%. Memberships fell by 5.4% in what she referred to as forced-unionism states. During that same period, Rehder says the number of union members in Missouri declined by 20%.

Democrats oppose the measure and say it would allow non-union members to receive the same benefits as union members, but for free. Some Right to Work supporters say about 8% of Missouri’s workforce is made up of union workers.
Rep. Bob Burns (D-St. Louis), pushed for voters to decide on the issue.

“If that’s true and it probably is, what are they so worried about us for? Only 8%? Why don’t they let us wither and die on the vine? What are they afraid of,” Burns asked.

Rep. Clem Smith (D-Velda Village Hills) shared a similar view as Burns.

“It’s hard for me to believe that 8% of the workforce is somehow holding the other 92% down. You are telling that this 8% is so strong that candidates that this 8% supported all lost on statewide offices? If it’s so strong, we’d have a more unionized state, more pro-labor Representatives up here but that’s not the case right now. What I’ve learned since I’ve been here seven years is that you’ve always got to have a boogeyman,” says Smith.

He says Right to Work laws would weaken Missouri’s unions.

“When I worked at Boeing, I did the same job that the people in South Carolina did. They built a different product, but they did the same thing. I made $10 an hour more than those folks. My benefits package way better than those folks,” says Smith.

Burns also touted his region’s workforce.

“There’s a reason why St. Louis city and St. Louis County are the economic engine of this state. Bar none. We have good paying jobs.”

Rep. Tila Hubrecht (R-Dexter) says Arkansas and Tennessee are overwhelmingly beating Missouri in job growth.

“St. Louis and Kansas City cannot be the economic drivers of Missouri. We have to have the entire state of Missouri working and growing this state,” says Hubrecht.

Rep. Kirk Matthews (R-Pacific) says his nephew has held union jobs in states with and without Right to Work laws.

“Coming to a union job in Missouri, he took a $30,000 a year pay cut from what he was earning at a Right to Work state in Texas,” says Matthews.

If the measure passes in the House, the proposal moves to the Senate.