Right to work

Posted 11/7/19

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl called it a “watershed” moment.Last week, the Missouri House approved a statewide right-to-work measure by a 91-64 margin. The bill would prevent unions from …

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Right to work


Missouri House Speaker John Diehl called it a “watershed” moment.Last week, the Missouri House approved a statewide right-to-work measure by a 91-64 margin. The bill would prevent unions from collecting dues from those who choose not to join. The vote was historic in the sense that it was the first time one of the chambers in the General Assembly passed a right-to-work bill. But that doesn’t mean Missouri is poised to become the nation’s 25th right-to-work state. Far from it.The legislation is likely to face a filibuster in the Senate and may never reach a vote. Even if it were to pass in the Senate, Gov. Jay Nixon would likely veto the bill. If opponents — including 23 Republicans — were to stand firm, there aren’t enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.One of those Republicans voting against the bill was Bart Korman, R-High Hill whose district includes much of Warren County.  In explaining his vote to the New York Times, Korman said portions of his district have a strong union presence. He said his party colleagues were respectful of his position and that he did not foresee changing his mind if a similarly worded bill returned to the House for a vote to override.One of the arguments that was repeated during the debate over the measure was that it would make our state more competitive in keeping and attracting businesses, especially since most of the states that border Missouri already have right-to-work laws or policies.State Auditor Tom Schweich echoed those sentiments in a meeting with newspaper reporters and publishers on Thursday. Schweich, who is running for governor in 2016 on the GOP ticket, said he recently met with a Missouri business owner who decided to expand his business in Arkansas rather than in Missouri because it is a right-to-work state. He said that decision cost Missouri 1,000 jobs.Schweich suggested his support for right-to-work was less about ideology and more about being “practical” about the realities of economic development.But later that day, Gov. Jay Nixon dismissed the border-states argument saying right-to-work rarely if ever comes up in his discussions with business owners considering locating to Missouri. Nixon, Democrat, said the prospective business owners are more concerned with workforce readiness issues and things like infrastructure and transportation.That has been our experience as well. Missouri has long been considered a “union” state but the truth is union membership has been declining here just as it has across the country.In 1989, Missouri had a union membership rate of 15.5 percent of all wage and salary workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, that figure had dropped to just 8.4 percent or around 214,000 people.The reality is unions are not as consequential as they once were in the economic development equation. Today, the first question prospective employers ask when they are considering a move is are there available educated and qualified workers.There is no question that right-to-work states, especially in the South, have seen an influx of new manufacturing plants. But some of those same manufacturers, including Ford, General Motors and Boeing, also have expanded here in Missouri.Our guess is right-to-work will eventually become law in Missouri. Whether it results in a boom of new jobs in our state as some predict is less certain.