Missouri has become the 28th state to pass a right-to-work law, eliminating mandatory union fees and dues. While Republican lawmakers and conservatives argue that right-to-work laws accelerate job growth, Democrats and labor advocates counter that the laws result in depressed statewide wages.
On Feb. 6, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri signed a right-to-work bill that eliminates fees for workers who decline to join the profession's local union. While federal law already allows workers to refuse union membership, right-to-work laws allows them to also avoid paying any fees to the union as well.
"Passing right-to-work sends a very clear message that the people of Missouri are ready to work and Missouri is open for business," Greitens stated before signing the bill into law, according to AP.
The new Missouri law goes into effect on Aug. 28. Current union contracts will not be affected by the law until they are up for renewal.
The right-to-work bill was extensively debated in the Missouri Legislature, with Democratic lawmakers asserting that the law would create minimal job growth and instead lower wages.
"I just don't get this idea that right-to-work leads to all this job growth," said Democratic state Rep. Jon Carpenter of Missouri said before the bill was up for House vote on Feb. 2, The Kansas City Star reports. Carpenter added that Mississippi has right-to-work laws but is the poorest state in the nation.
Republican state Rep. Rocky Miller of Missouri responded: "I've never said this is a magic bullet. But this is very important for large manufacturing to come to the state."
Labor unions are already mobilizing to challenge the new law, with Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis spearheading efforts to circulate petitions to have a referendum on reinstating union fees in 2018.
Northwest Missouri Labor Council President Mike Veale asserts that laws that could impact all Missouri workers should be decided by all state voters instead of the Legislature and governor.
"It's really not fair that the people don't have a voice in this," Veale told KQTV. "We're going to fight this. We're going to getting petitions signed and we want the voters to vote on this. This is horrible legislation that is going to affect people in a negative way."
Labor movement expert Dr. Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University believes that while Democrats and Republicans can argue the merits of right-to-work, the data indicates that these laws ultimately amount to minimal changes.
"It's an issue that the research shows doesn't have dramatic results on way or the other," Rosenfeld told KTVI. "This is a type of legislation that comes into states that are already experiencing dramatically weakened union movements."
Rosenfeld concluded that right-to-work laws are "an issue that contains so much political heat on both sides ... there's just no evidence pointing to either outcome."