Missouri Residents Sue Over Unions’ Right-to-Work Repeal Effort

Published February 20, 2017

Labor unions in Missouri are collecting signatures to place a referendum question before voters in 2018, seeking to repeal the state’s newly enacted right-to-work (RTW) law, prompting residents to request a Cole County Circuit Court judge to block the repeal effort.

In February, Missouri lawmakers approved legislation removing laws compelling employees to join labor unions and pay dues as a condition of employment in some workplaces. Labor unions filed petitions to begin collecting signatures to ask voters to overturn the right-to-work law in January, nearly a month before the law, which takes effect in August, was sent to the governor.

On January 19, three Missouri residents—Mary Hill, Roger Stickler, and Michael Briggs— filed a lawsuit against Missouri Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft, alleging the ballot initiatives against the worker freedom law were improperly filed and approved by the previous secretary of state, Jason Kinder.

Playing Short-Handed

Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability studies for the Show-Me Institute, says labor unions are trying to hobble the state’s attempts to catch up with its neighbors economically.

“It’s sort of like playing basketball with only four players on the court; you could still win, but it’s going to be a lot harder,” Ishmael said. “With the exception of Illinois, Missouri is surrounded by right-to-work states. That’s a consequential fact for assessing obstacles to state growth.”

Big Consequences

Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, says RTW states have grown faster than forced-unionism states, in terms of both population and prosperity.

“The right-to-work states have, over the last several decades, attracted more people than non-RTW states,” Vedder said. “There’s migration from the non-right-to-work states to the right-to-work states. There’s been a sharp increase in the number of large businesses headquartered in right-to-work states as opposed to non-RTW states. There is generally a higher rate of total income growth as well as per-capita income growth in the right-to-work states.

“From a business perspective, it’s considered a better environment to be located in,” Vedder said. “That means more jobs move into those states, and that increases the attractiveness of the state to workers as well, bringing new workers into the state.”

Benefits to Unions, Too

Vedder says labor unions also benefit from right-to-work laws.

“Union leaders are starting to realize that life can go on with right-to-work laws,” Vedder said. “Indeed, it’s a fascinating statistic that if you look at states that have had right-to-work laws for a long time—say, 10 years or more—and you look at what’s happened to their union membership in the last 10 or 15 years, in fact their union membership has done better than union membership in states without these laws. Union membership is falling everywhere. It’s not going up, it’s going down, but it’s going down less in right-to-work states.”