One local legislator has mixed feelings about Missouri becoming a “right-to-work” state while another lawmaker supports the idea.
If Missouri became a right-to-work state, employees would not have to pay union dues to be employed in certain workplaces.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder recently said that he thinks a right-to-work measure would be put on the ballot for voters to decide.
It is up to the leadership in the Missouri House and Senate to decide when the public would vote on the issue, Kinder’s spokesman, Jay Eastlick, told The Missourian Monday.
State Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said he supports putting the right-to-work question on the ballot.
“I am inclined to support right-to-work,” Schatz said, adding that he does not think union membership should be a requirement for employment.
State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said right-to-work is not a one-size-fits-all issue and is more complicated than people think.
Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO in Jefferson City, said it is “very contradictory” for Republicans to support right-to-work.
Right-to-work is just a way for government to stick its nose into private enterprise, Louis said. Government should not interfere with discussions between unions, employees and employers, Louis asserted.
Moreover, Louis said right-to-work laws put working families in “dire straits” by causing incomes, wages and benefits to go down. It takes away the ability of employees to bargain collectively because it causes organized labor to lose its power, Louis added.
Louis said it is not going to be as easy as the lieutenant governor thinks to put the issue on the ballot.
“Labor has a lot of friends on both sides of the aisle that think it’s a waste of money to put right-to-work on the ballot,” Louis said, referring to the cost of conducting the election.
Hinson said he does not expect the political right-to-work legislation to pass next year, especially with elections in 2014. Republicans in urban areas may not be re-elected if they support right-to-work legislation, Hinson added.
Officials say the only way a right-to-work initiative would pass in Missouri is if it was done through a public vote process. That’s because attempts to pass a bill in the Legislature would be vetoed by the governor, and there would not be enough votes to override.
Hinson noted that there are numerous pro-labor Republicans who would oppose a right-to-work measure. Some of those legislators have many union members in their districts. Hinson said his district has about 4,400 former or present union members, and that is fairly small compared to some other districts.
Pros and Cons
Hinson said there are pros and cons of becoming a right-to-work state.
For instance, Hinson said he does not necessarily think people should have to join a union or pay an agency fee to work in certain places. But he said if workers take advantage of the union benefits, such as legal representation, then they should have to pay those dues. This is in line with the Republican ideal of not getting a “free ride,” Hinson said.
He said it is wrong for people to not join the union and then seek the union’s help in tough times, such as when a disciplinary matter occurs. Under federal law, the union still has to support someone who requests legal representation even if the worker has not paid dues, Hinson said.
If nonunion members want the union’s support, such as paying for attorneys fees, then the workers should have to pay their back dues or cover the cost of the attorneys on their own, Hinson asserted.
Any right-to-work measure would have to contain a clause dealing with these issues, Hinson said. Without some parameters established, Hinson said it would be hard to support a right-to-work bill.
Hinson said some union dues cover education costs, and that would also have to be looked at with any right-to-work legislation.
It is hard to say how Missouri citizens would vote on a right-to-work measure, Hinson said. He noted that voters in 1978 overwhelmingly defeated the issue but said attitudes have changes since then. It would be much closer this time, Hinson added.
Labor unions would put forward significant money to fight a right-to-work campaign, Schatz said. He questioned if there is enough sentiment among voters to overcome the labor union’s opposition.
Indeed, Louis said the AFL-CIO is “geared up” to fight the right-to-work issue if it goes on the ballot. The unions would get the truth out about the damage right-to-work does to working, middle class families, he said.
State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, and State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, did not return phone calls seeking comment.