Brian Budd was thinking about Kansas while waiting for election results at the Springfield Teamsters Local 445 on East Division Street on Tuesday night.
Budd, who works at Timken Belts and is a local steelworkers union official, has seen data from his shop and a sister company in the Sunflower State. Wages are lower there because organized labor’s power is diminished in Kansas, a “right-to-work” state, Budd said.
“They start off at lower wages, and they don’t get anywhere near us,” Budd said.
He had less to worry about later on primary day, when Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office showed about 63 percent of Missourians rejecting a law banning mandatory union dues, overturning a measure backed by more than 60 percent of the Missouri General Assembly in 2017.
The vote totals were 385,767 no and 228,685 yes by 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to the website. Ballots in hundreds of precincts had yet to be reported, but the Associated Press had called the race.
With about 95 percent of the precincts reporting in Greene County, about 57.5 percent of voters opposed “right-to-work,” according to Clerk Shane Schoeller’s office. In Christian County, the measure had a narrow margin of support, with about 51.5 percent voting “yes,” according to Clerk Kay Brown’s office.
Missouri unions were energized about the referendum, which labor members and supporters triggered last year by turning in more than 300,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot. The law was suspended until voters could have their say, nearly a year later.
For Corey White, a domestic violence victims’ advocate from Ozark, “right-to-work” is an inaccurate misnomer that smacks of “manipulation.”
Neither White nor Carmen Strawn, a registered nurse who lives in the Rountree neighborhood, belong to a union. But they actively opposed the law because they fear it could have a deleterious effect on wages for middle- and lower-class workers.
Budd and Jeff Phillips, a spokesman for the heavy construction laborers local, acknowledged that “right-to-work” might entice companies to set up shop in Missouri, bringing with them an influx of jobs.
“But what kind of jobs?” Phillips wondered, arguing the same point as Budd: That the extra jobs would not offer wages that could support a family.
The mandatory ban on union dues, generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, was passed in early 2017 by lawmakers in Jefferson City, where the GOP holds sway. Former Gov. Eric Greitens, for whom signing “right-to-work” was a major campaign issue, inked the bill into law in February 2017.
Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, bashed unions in a statement after the defeat of the law.
“Time and again, Unions have funneled ridiculous amounts money and used intimidation tactics to stop measures that would ultimately benefit their workers and hold their officials more accountable, and Proposition A was no exception,” Nuelle said. “The idea that one must be forced to pay union dues is ridiculous, especially since unions continually support left-wing groups and candidates. This trend needs to stop, and we hope that further measures are taken to continue the fight to hold union officials accountable, level the economic playing field, and afford workers more freedom.”
The ballot measure was a referendum on the law itself as well as a test of big labor following a big court defeat: In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that blocks public-sector unions from requiring union dues.
Unions inside and outside Missouri poured money and time into the race, easily out-raising supporters of the law by about a three-to-one margin.
In 2017, about 226,000 Missouri employees comprising about 8.7 percent of Missouri’s wage and salary workers belonged to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 39,000 workers were represented by a union but were not members.
The vote was initially slated for November, but Republican legislators moved the vote to August. Switching the date could have implications on turnout in the Nov. 6 general election.
From a historical perspective, the vote was not a surprise. More than 90 percent of the time, Missourians have sided against their elected state representatives when asked to vote on a law passed by lawmakers.
A right-to-work measure also was on the ballot in 1978. As it was Tuesday, voters four decades ago rejected the labor law.
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