"Right to Work" Law Soundly Defeated in Missouri

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 10, 2018

Missouri voters decisively rejected a "right to work" law this week by a 2-to-1 margin, marking the first defeat in recent years for such a law through a ballot measure. The prospective law would have barred private-sector unions from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment.

In early 2017, Missouri appeared poised to become the 28th "right to work" state when former Governor Eric Greitens signed the law. But a coalition of union members and other opponents of the measure gathered more than 300,000 signatures to stop itfrom taking effect. Missouri law allows for any legislation to put to a public vote if petitioners gather at least 100,000 signatures to overturn it.

The outcome represents a big win for organized labor. Unions claim their ability to negotiate collective bargaining agreements is compromised without the ability to require employees to either join the union after they become employed or, in the alternative, pay fees analogous to union dues.

These clauses typically require an employer to terminate the employment of a person who does not pay mandatory union dues after his or her probationary term of employment ends, typically 90 days. But state "right to work" laws rendering these clauses unenforceable had been on the rise.

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that states and public-sector unions may no longer collect agency fees from non-union employees who object to paying them. Writing for the Court, Justice Samuel Alito said, "Employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them." In essence, the ruling imposed right-to-work on public employees nationwide. However, it did not apply to private employees.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, wages are 3.1 percent lower in "right to work" states for union and nonunion workers alike, even after accounting for differences in cost of living. It remains to be seen whether the Missouri vote will have implications on similar legislative efforts in other states.