The most high-profile vote in Tuesday’s election in Missouri won’t involve candidates, but instead will be the battle over a ballot measure.
Proposition A will determine whether Missouri becomes a right to work state. Right to work, as stated in the ballot measure’s language would prohibit, as a condition of employment, forced membership in a labor union or forced payments of dues or fees, typically known as “fair share fees”.
Missouri’s Republican-dominated legislature successfully passed a right to work bill into law in 2017 after having their efforts vetoed for years by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon. The bill rocketed through the general assembly and was signed by then-Governor Eric Greitens, himself a right to work enthusiast, in February of last year.
But by rushing the legislation forward, lawmakers gave labor organizations that much more time to organize an opposition. The groups easily gathered the needed signatures to force a public vote on the new law.
The ballot language states that a “yes” vote will adopt Senate Bill 19 passed by the general assembly in 2017. Energy heading into the election would seem to be on the side opposing Proposition A.
Labor organizations from inside and outside Missouri have poured money into the campaign. Matt Panik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which supports the measure, estimates unions and other opposition groups have spent $17 million while proponents have raised only $2 million to $3 million.
“We’ll see what the final figures are,” said Panik. “There may be $20 million raised and spent to oppose right to work. “That’s just the nature of some of these ballot measures. There’s high intensity on that side. We’ve raised the funds that we can, and we’ll see what the outcome is. There will just be a lot of money spent to oppose right to work. There’s no doubting it.”
The lead group behind the opposition, We are Missouri, has spent $15.3 million, according to its filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission. By comparison, the organization Freedom to Work has spent roughly $1.9 million to support Proposition A while Missourians For Freedom to Work spent just over $1.3 million.
Panik thinks the intensity on the opposition side might reflect a view that Missouri could be the last state holding back a chain reaction of more states embracing right to work. “I think they view Missouri as maybe the bastion against right to work, so that if Missouri were to become a right to work state, then you might see a domino effect of others states also becoming right to work,” Panik said.
Kentucky and Missouri became the 27th and 28th states to pass right to work laws in 2017. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation created a task force to defend and enforce Missouri’s law after the union ballot effort prevented it from going into effect.
The Foundation was involved in a failed court case to change language on the ballot measure. A circuit court in Cole County’s Jefferson City sided with right to work proponents but the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District overturned that decision in July of last year.
Erin Schrimpf with We Are Missouri thinks advertising efforts by groups such as Americans for Prosperity, a group bankrolled by the wealthy Koch Network, are trying to deliberately mislead voters into thinking right to work protects workers interests.
“What the opposition is doing is disingenuous and misleading because of who is behind it,” said Schrimpf. “It’s corporate interests. I just don’t think you see workers out there talking about wanting to vote yes on Proposition A.”
The Missouri Chamber relies on a study by National Economic Research Associates (NERA) to back up its claim that right to work is good for jobs and wages.
The firm’s research generally shows evidence that such laws have a positive effect on employment, output and personal income and do not lead to lower wages in either unionized or non-unionized industries. It also concludes the laws tend to diminish union density which it says is associated with higher levels of employment, increased investment and Research & Development spending and increased innovation.
The Chamber’s Panik notes all of Missouri’s surrounding states outside of Illinois have right to work laws. He claims they typically have healthier economic and employment climates. “With the Oklahoma’s, the Arkansas’, Texas, a lot of these right to work states are outgunning us in job growth, income growth, GDP growth,” said Panik.
Schrimpf with We Are Missouri contends the Chamber often claims with no proof that companies are staying out of Missouri because it’s not a right to work state. “When you ask them, ‘What companies have refused to move here?’, they have either no answer or a very small list of companies,” Schrimpf said. “And so, I think a lot of that is just fluff and fear-mongering, honestly.”
She also says claims by right to work proponents about income growth are often misleading. “They say average income rises by $2,000,” said Schrimph. “Well, an average CEO makes 361 times more than the average worker. So, if you put Warren Buffett in the same category as someone making minimum wage, then it’s going to look like everybody in that state is rich.”
The fight over right to work has reached the point where both sides of the issue have established facts that they quote. Tuesday’s vote in Missouri could boil down to which side is more successful in driving its voters to the polls.
The Republican-controlled state legislature moved the right to work election from November to August with a proposal it passed on party lines. The Missouri Chamber’s Panik told Missourinet he thought the original date would’ve allowed proponents more time to raise money for their campaign.
A survey conducted by the Remington Research Group on behalf of The Missouri Times in July showed 56% of voters oppose right to work while 38% approve.
Voters rejected right to work in a previous election 40 years ago. In 1978, a ballot measure to change the state constitution to make Missouri a right to work state failed by a substantial margin.
Even if Tuesday’s election is a victory for labor, the reach of unions is still shrinking in the state. Private sector union membership dropped from 262,000 in 2017 to 226,000 in 2017 with its share of the total workforce diminishing from 9.7% to 8.7%.