The Right-to-Work Rout

Unions spend big to repeal a worker freedom law in Missouri.

 
 

Former Gov. Eric Greitens signs legislation to make Missouri the 28th "right-to-work" state in Springfield, Mo., Feb. 6, 2017.
Former Gov. Eric Greitens signs legislation to make Missouri the 28th “right-to-work” state in Springfield, Mo., Feb. 6, 2017. PHOTO: NATHAN PAPES/ASSOCIATED PRESS
 

Big spending paid off for Big Labor on Tuesday as Missouri voters rejected right-to-work legislation by an overwhelming 2 to 1. Compulsory dues will help offset the unions’ $27 million investment in political coercion.

In 2016 unions spent some $12 million to support a Missouri Democratic gubernatorial candidate who vowed to veto right-to-work legislation that lets workers decide if they want to join a union. That effort failed, and then- Gov. Eric Greitens signed it into law his first month in office.

But under Missouri’s constitution, petitioners have 90 days after a legislative session to gather signatures for a voter referendum that can override new laws. Unions got three times as many signatures as they needed to put the referendum on the ballot, and they spent more than $15 million campaigning for Tuesday’s right-to-work repeal. That’s nearly five times what proponents of the law spent.

Union activists also canvassed the homes of more than half a million Missourians. Meanwhile, the state’s right-to-work movement lost its most prominent spokesman in May when Mr. Greitens resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct and campaign-finance violations. The magnitude of the referendum defeat is nonetheless startling.

Tuesday’s vote puts Missouri at a disadvantage in the fierce interstate competition for business investment. Seven of its eight neighboring states already have right-to-work laws. Illinois is the exception, of course.

After workers in neighboring Kentucky joined the ranks of the free last year, the state announced a record $9.2 billion in corporate investment. That includes a $1.3 million Braidy Industries aluminum mill in Ashland, which was chosen over 24 other locations elsewhere in the U.S. “If Kentucky wasn’t a right-to-work-state,” CEO Craig Bouchard said, “it wouldn’t have been on the list.”

Given the choice after right-to-work passed, some 16,000 Kentucky workers decided union representation wasn’t worth the cost, opting out of membership. Public-union workers won the same freedom earlier this summer, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling. Big Labor clearly feared the financial consequences if Missouri workers were free to choose whether or not to join unions in the private economy.

Tuesday’s vote marks the first time a right-to-work law has been overturned by popular vote. Union freedom had been on a roll in recent years, with legislative victories in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana as well as Kentucky. The Missouri result is merely the beginning of the union counterattack, as AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka makes clear nearby. Business leaders had better shake off their complacency if they don’t want to be met one morning with a vote to unionize their own employees.

Appeared in the August 9, 2018, print edition.

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