Missouri Votes Down Right to Work

Referendum prevents MO from becoming nation's 28th right-to-work state

Missouri state capitol building
Missouri state capitol building / Wikimedia Commons
• August 7, 2018 10:49 pm


Missouri voters rejected right to work in a statewide referendum on Tuesday.

Residents overturned right to work by a nearly 2-1 margin; the No on Proposition A side held a 62-38 lead with more than 1,000 precincts reporting–even before heavily Democratic St. Louis released its results–leading Decision Desk HQ to call the race just after 10 p.m. The vote followed one of the most expensive ballot initiatives in state history. Union forces spent more than $17 million to defeat right to work, which would have barred employers from mandating union payments as a condition of employment, while supporters spent more than $5 million to keep the law on the books.

The vote, known as Proposition A, represented a major win for the labor movement, which has unsuccessfully challenged right to work laws in traditional labor strongholds. Right to work has spread across the Rust Belt and coal states that served as the backbone of the labor movement from Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin to Kentucky and West Virginia. Those laws have been met with numerous legal challenges at the state and federal level with zero success. When right to work passed in Missouri, however, the state's labor movement mobilized not in court but in a statewide petition drive. The AFL-CIO canvassed residents to force a vote on the matter and succeeded in putting the law to a vote. The costly get out the vote operation paid off on Tuesday.

AFL-CIO Treasurer Liz Shuler addressed union supporters at a We Are Missouri–the union-financed campaign operation–watch party on Tuesdaynight. She thanked activists for their strong turn out and get out the vote operations, which officials said reached more than 1 million voters.

"With every door and every call, you sent a message to every politician and every corporation that workers are on the rise and unions are here to stay," she said, according to the national AFL-CIO's Twitter account.

Missouri became the nation's 28th right to work state in 2017 after Republicans took control of both legislative houses and the governor's mansion. The Republican-controlled statehouse had passed right to work several times in recent years only to see its bills vetoed by former Democratic governor Jay Nixon. The law was one of the first bills championed by former governor Eric Greitens, who resigned in July following a sex scandal.

The law's supporters were dismayed that voters rejected the bill. The National Right to Work Committee spent $1 million in the final weeks leading up to the referendum to counter the campaign from organized labor. Committee spokesman Patrick Semmens said supporters faced an uphill battle in the face of huge spending from unions, including millions of dollars that came from national labor organizations.

"Union bosses have poured forced dues money into Missouri to confuse voters about Prop A because they know that when the public understands that all Right to Work does is make union payments voluntary, they overwhelmingly support giving each worker that choice," Semmens told the Washington Free Beacon.

Americans for Prosperity launched an education campaign through the state to tout the benefits of right to work and counter the union argument that it is inherently antiworker. AFP spokesman Akash Chougule acknowledged that the referendum was a set back for the movement, but added that momentum remains on the side of giving workers choices, rather than mandatory unionism. Right to work has had a domino effect in regions that were once dominated by labor unions. He expects policymakers to revisit the issue after seeing how its neighbors fare in the wake of right to work.

"This setback is only temporary. As we said repeatedly when right-to-work fell short over the past half-decade, it is a matter of ‘when,' not ‘if' – and each year we have moved closer to the finish line," Chougule said in an email. "Missourians should have no doubt that will be back stronger than ever to finally ensure that no worker in this state can be forced to pay a union just to keep their job."

Published under: Right to Work, Unions