Gov. Eric Greitens signed a right-to-work law last week after it was passed through the Missouri General Assembly. Here's what you need to know.
What does right-to-work mean? It means employees are not required to join a labor union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.
How many states have these laws? Right-to-work laws are currently in effect in 27 states. When the law goes into effect August 28, Missouri will be the 28th right-to-work state. Behind Missouri, Kentucky is the latest state to adopt a right-to-work law.
Why are people in favor of it? Those who favor right-to-work laws argue they increase job opportunities/economic growth and lure in businesses looking to expand. Karen Buschmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, cites a Gallup survey the chamber conducted that showed 54 percent of more than 1,000 Missouri CEOs believe right-to-work would help Missouri become more competitive. "We're excited that now this barrier to bringing new jobs to our state has been removed," she says.
Why are people against it? Those who oppose right-to-work laws say they only benefit large corporations. The laws, opponents argue, will weaken unions and lessen wages, because workers who do not pay union dues will still receive the same benefits (contract negotiations, arbitration rights, on-the-job safety securities) as those who do pay them. It's also seen as a political incentive for Republicans to weaken a key component of the Democratic party. "We're bound to lose some membership," says Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council, adding: "We've got the lowest paid state workers in the country—50 out of 50 states—and the first few things that we're really jamming through the legislature is legislation that would handcuff unions... It's definitely going to make our jobs harder."
What does this mean for people in Missouri? "What we know of past implementation, things need not change all that dramatically for organized labor," so long as organized labor is prepared for it, says Washington University in St. Louis sociology professor Jake Rosenfeld, author of What Unions No Longer Do. But the law is not going to help organized labor, either. He says, "They're going to have to fight harder to maintain membership dues, that's for sure. There are going to be workers who choose not to pay the many dues, just like the fact that unions involved are still going to have to represent those workers."
What does Missouri's union force look like? Rosenfeld says the statewide unionization rate in Missouri is about 9 percent, and it's stronger in St. Louis (unions are often stronger in urban areas). Other states have a rate around 10 or 11 percent. That's way down from where it was a couple of decades ago. "If you go back just to the early 1980s, for example, that's already when unions had begun to decline from their post-WWII boost," Rosenfeld says. "You're talking about a unionization rate in Missouri that's 2.5–3 times as high as it is now."