Missouri is one of three states to take up right to work in as many weeks after its House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday.
The Republican-controlled House voted 100-59 to end coercive unionism. The bill would outlaw the practice of paying union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Rep. Holly Rehder, chairman of the Economic Development Committee, said that the bill would help attract jobs to rural areas, which have lagged behind the state's cities in employment.
"Down in the Bootheel where I live, we miss jobs every year and we miss businesses every year because of not being right to work," she said.
The state witnessed a steep drop in union membership over the past decade. There were 230,000 dues-paying members in 2015, down from 290,000 in 2005. The membership rate fell from 11.5 percent to 8.8 percent over that time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Missouri Republican Party controls the House and Senate. The legislature passed the same bill in 2015, but Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it. Newly-elected Republican Gov. Eric Greitens campaigned on right to work and called for lawmakers to send a version of the bill to his desk during his opening State of the State address on Tuesday.
"The people have sent us a message: We must do everything in our power to put people back to work in good, high-paying jobs," he said. "That’s why we must join 27 other states and sign right to work."
The state Democratic Party decried the vote as an attack on workers.
"Missouri Democrats proudly stand with labor and are appalled by Republicans voting a ‘right-to-work-for-less'scheme out of the Mo House," the party said in a tweet [sic].
Missouri passed right to work the same day that the New Hampshire Senate approved the measure and just two weeks after Kentucky adopted it. If the measure survives, they will become the 28th and 29th states that bar coercive unionism.
The National Right to Work Foundation has focused on Missouri in recent years, as it is one of the few states in the region to lack such protection. Foundation president Mark Mix said that the House vote is a promising start to "free thousands of Missouri workers."
"The House's support and passage of the Missouri Right to Work Bill is an important step in the hard-fought battle to end compulsory unionism in the Show-Me State and make Missouri America's next right to work state," he said in a statement. "A Missouri right to work law would free thousands of Missouri workers who have been forced to pay tribute to a union boss just for the privilege of getting and keeping a job so they can provide for their families. The law would also provide a much needed economic boost for Missouri."
The state Senate is expected to take up the bill next week.