Before a packed hearing room, Missouri Chamber Director of Legislative Affairs, Jay Atkins, testified in support of House Bill 1099, legislation to give employees the right to choose whether or not they want to be part of a labor union. The bill, 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.
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. That is the reason the Missouri Chamber strongly backs this legislation.
“It’s a matter of competition,” said Akins. “Do we want to give Missouri one of the most compelling tools to attract new jobs to our state, or are we going to allow other states to use our complacency against us? Do we want to secure the jobs that companies want to bring to our state, or do we want to let jobs go to states that are willing to make the effort to provide union choice?”
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.
Without this legislation, Missouri could soon be in the minority of states that compel union fees as a condition of work in union organizations. Twenty-four states currently have right-to-work laws. In 2013, right-to-work legislation was introduced in 21 states during the 2013 legislative session, 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.
Often, these right-to-work states are seeing lower unemployment levels than those with tougher labor climates. Economic development professionals say that many of the companies looking to expand in other states won’t even consider Missouri because it is not a right-to-work state.
Union membership in Missouri has been on a slow but steady decline over the past two decades, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1989, when the bureau first began collecting the data, union membership in Missouri was 15.5 percent. The number has since dropped to about 8.9 percent.