Labor unions are vastly outspending conservative groups in a campaign to overturn a law that significantly restricts the power of unions in the state of Missouri.
Voters will decide this Tuesday whether to keep or reject a "right-to-work" law signed by former Republican Governor Eric Greitens in 2017. Greitens resigned in late May amid several scandals including an extramarital affair.
Supporters of Missouri’s law insist that private sector workers should not be forced to pay union dues. A key argument here is that workers don’t always share the same views as the union to which they belong - which means their money could be used to support causes with which they disagree.
GOP state lawmakers say Missouri should keep the law intact in order to aid the economy and make the state more competitive.
“If you want to compete with not just 49 other states but other countries, it is a crucial factor,” says Dan Meehan of the state’s Chamber of Commerce. The right-to-work law makes Missouri more attractive to potential employers, including manufacturers.
On the other side, you have Democrats and pro-union groups who say the law restricts unions’ ability to fight for workers’ rights.
“Without collective bargaining we’re at risk of losing our health benefits, our retirement savings, and being forced to take a pay cut,” says Quiema Spencer, a 39-year-old pipe fitter. “I can’t afford that with the cost of living going up.”
Currently, 28 states have right-to-work laws that block unions from requiring workers to pay dues. If Missouri overturns the law, it will be the first time in US history that a right-to-work law is overturned by popular vote.
“I’ll make a prediction: we’re going to win,” says Richard Trumka, head of the massive labor union federation AFL-CIO. “We’re going to win because it’s what workers want and because making our voices heard is what we do best.” According to Trumka, union representatives knocked on more than half a million doors to persuade voters to reject the law.
Organizations seeking to overturn the law have received more than five times as much money as those seeking to keep it in place.
The anti-union group Missourians for Freedom to Work received over $500,000 in July. To compare, pro-union group We Are Missouri received $3.6 million during the last reporting period. Overall, the group has pulled in over $16 million in contributions from labor unions throughout the country.
The vote in Missouri is especially significant given the Supreme Court's June ruling to strike down mandatory union fees for public sector workers. That decision is already impacting union coffers.
The upcoming vote, which was originally scheduled for the November midterms, was moved up to August 7th for the benefit of state businesses. The move was also seen as an effort to prevent incumbent Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (D) from benefiting from a union get-out-the vote effort.