The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals Friday affirmed Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s original Right to Work ballot summary language in a lawsuit over its wording.
After Governor Eric Greitens signed a right to work bill into law in January, unions quickly began drafting a plan to get the law placed before a public vote.
The right to work law allows workers to opt out of joining a union as a requirement for employment.
Challenging laws by submitting them to a public vote is allowed in Missouri. The unions submitted paperwork to Secretary of State’s office, and Secretary Jay Ashcroft wrote language for a summary to be attached to signature pages workers carry as they’re gathering signatures needed get the law onto the ballot.
Ashcroft then approved that language himself after several other state departments had signed off on it. As canvassers working for the unions began gathering signatures, a lawsuit was brought by backers of the law over the wording of the summary Ashcroft wrote.
Attorneys representing two Kansas City police officers and a nurse from Liberty claimed its language contained “embarrassing” grammatical errors and was unfair and inadequate.
On June 22nd, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green agreed, ruling the right-to-work summary could be confusing to voters. Green rewrote the summary in a way he called “fair, sufficient, and informative to voters”.
The unions appealed Judge Green’s decision. In Friday’s reversal of Greene’s decision, the three judge appeals court panel concluded “the Secretary’s summary statement is fair and sufficient, and the circuit court should have certified the summary statement.”
Secretary Ashcroft released a statement after Friday’s appeals court action. “Missourians expect to understand exactly what they are voting for or against,” Ashcroft said. “Ballot language should be clear and easy to understand – that yes means yes and no means no.”
AFL-CIO President Mike Louis also praised the appeals court’s decision. “We were pleased to learn that the Western District Court of Appeals has sided with Missouri voters’ right to make their voices heard through the referendum process” Louis said. “We will continue our on-going signature collection efforts, and have full confidence Missouri voters will have the final say on whether so-called “Right to Work” becomes law in November 2018.”
The group that filed the lawsuit is expected to appeal the latest decision to the Missouri Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the union workers have continued to gather signatures during the litigation.
The unions have until August 28th to collect signatures from five percent of legal voters in the last governor’s election in any six of the eight congressional districts in Missouri.
If enough of the signatures collected are deemed valid, the right to work law will be delayed until the public vote is held on the ballot referendum in 2018. The law is scheduled to go into effect on the same day the signatures are due to be turned in to the Secretary of State’s office, August 28th.
Republican state lawmakers, along with groups such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, have launched an informal campaign to defend the right to work statute. GOP Senator Caleb Rowden of Columbia says he doesn’t think the law needs to go before voters because their views are already represented by the lawmakers they elected.
“When you vote for individuals, you vote for the policies that they represent” said Rowden. “I think we set a dangerous precedent when every time the legislature does something that maybe a somewhat small, but vocal group from in the state, and a lot form out of state, decide they want to change that, I think that’s a pretty dangerous road to go down.”