Missouri’s long road to becoming a right to work state rocketed to breakneck speed this year.
Thanks to Republican super-majorities in the legislature, and finally a GOP governor, such legislation will be enacted into law quickly.
Governor Eric Greitens will hold two ceremonial signings of the bill Monday. One will take place at an abandoned warehouse in Springfield, while the other will occur in Poplar Bluff, 30 miles from the Arkansas border, where Greitens will declare Missouri is open for business. A third signing will take place Monday evening at the Capitol.
After the state House approved the Senate’s version of a right to work proposal last Thursday, interest groups who’d long lobbied for the law rushed out gleeful statements.
Americans for Prosperity – Missouri Director Jeremy Cady said “At long last workers in Missouri have been granted the basic freedom to work without fear of being fired for not paying a union”.
Brad Jones, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business said “This is a big victory for businesses in Missouri”.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce expressed eagerness for the proposal to be finalized. In an email to Missourinet, the organization stated “Only one step remains to complete a decades-long journey to make Missouri a right-to-work state: a signature by Gov. Eric Greitens”.
While the ALL-CIO union gathered to demonstrate against the measure in the Capitol Rotunda Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard signaled the celebration was just beginning for him.
“This may be one of the greatest days in the history of Missouri as far as I’m concerned, on an issue that I’ve been working on for close to 16 years.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Senate Democratic leader Gina Walsh, who also presides over one of the state’s major labor organizations, the Missouri State Building and Construction Trade Council. For her, Thursday signaled the end of a long, contentious battle.
“Congratulations to them” said Walsh. “They’ve been fighting that fight for 16 years. I’ve been fighting it for 41. So I will trump their 16 with my 41 years on that particular issue with labor.”
A Right to work law will prohibit any requirement for employees to join unions as a condition of employment.
When Governor Greiten signs the bill, Missouri will become the 28th state with such a statute in place.
Richard indicated signing ceremonies could take place across the state as early as Monday. Thursday, he conveyed a deep sense of accomplishment. “If nothing else happens the rest of my life, I’m pleased. It is worth being here for, and worth seeing.”
Greitens is now set to grant his party’s wishes after Democratic Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a previous proposal in 2015. Walsh says it’s a devastating, but not fatal blow to organized labor.
“I think that labor unions, they’re down but they’re not out. They will move on and they will figure out how to operate within the system they’ve been given.”
Professor Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University in St. Louis lends some substance to Walsh’s claim. As a sociologist who studies the issue, he 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 so.” Rosenfeld thinks organized labor in Missouri should look to Nevada as a model to follow.
Right to work laws now have a near omnipresence in the region. Seven of the eight states surrounding Missouri have such statutes in place after Kentucky enacted its law last month.