Missouri House votes to give employees a choice to join a union, but additional votes needed for final approval

Legislation to give employees the right to choose whether or not they want to be part of a labor union was given first-round approval on April 9 by the Missouri House of Representatives after heated debate.  The bill, HB 1770, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, specifies that no person can be required to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of work.  The bill was perfected on a vote of 78-68.

Some called the vote historic.  It was the first time in history that the Missouri House took a vote on right-to-work legislation.  However, in order to move to the Missouri Senate, the bill must receive 82 votes in support, which means four representatives must change their votes in the final vote on HB 1770.  Twelve representatives were absent for the April 9 perfection vote.  (See how they voted.)

Until House leadership is confident 82 yes votes can be secured, the bill likely will not be brought back up.  That is unfortunate for Missouri, which could soon be among the minority of states without right-to-work protections for its workers.

“It’s an issue of economics,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO.  “A state’s labor policy is one of the top factors site selectors look to when deciding where to move or expand businesses.  The more favorable a state looks to site selectors, the more jobs that state will have to offer its workers.  It’s also an issue of fairness.  Shouldn’t an employee have the right to decide whether a portion of his or her paycheck goes to a union?”

In Missouri, labor groups can negotiate on behalf of all workers — even those who are not in unions. Employees who are not union members don’t have to pay dues, but they must pay fees to cover the cost of representation — essentially tying them to the groups, even if they want no affiliation.

Twenty-four states currently have right-to-work laws.  In 2013, right-to-work legislation was introduced in 21 states, as well as in the District of Columbia and the U.S. Congress.  Of the states surrounding Missouri, all but Illinois and Kentucky are right-to-work states.

Statistics show that states that have implemented right to work laws are seeing an increase in jobs and worker wages.  According to Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), two years after Indiana passed right to work 64 companies relocated in the Hoosier State.  These companies created 8,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in capital investment.  What’s more, these new jobs paid on average $3.00 more per hour than previous wages.  While the IEDC says the right-to-work law wasn’t the only reason the companies came to Indiana, company executives said they wouldn’t have considered the state without it.

A similar success story hits even closer to home in neighboring state Oklahoma.  The first six months after Oklahoma passed right to work, the state went from 40th in the nation to 1st in job creation, according to the State Chamber of Oklahoma.

“Missouri can’t afford to ignore what is happening in states around us,” Mehan said.  “The most beneficial things we can provide Missouri workers are more job opportunities and that is what this bill would do.  It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t still have unions in Missouri, but the unions will have to work a little harder to earn their fees.”

Unfortunately, 2014 may not be the year this legislation will pass in Missouri.

“This vote makes it clear that we cannot underestimate this issue,” Mehan said.  “The states that have recently passed right-to-work legislation – Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma – were successful because it was approached strategically and as part of a long-term plan.”

For more information on right to work legislation, contact Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber general counsel and director of governmental affairs, at jatkins@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573-634-3511.

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