Ballot Briefing: Proposition A and Missouri’s ‘right-to-work’ law

On Tuesday, Missouri voters will decide the fate of the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law. So, just what is this hotly debated law? What does voting yes or no on the measure mean? And what are the broader implications of the proposition?

If you’re still feeling unclear on some of the details of the law, this FAQ can help ensure you’re armed with the basics as you head to the polls Tuesday.

What is the “right to work?”

Essentially, Tuesday’s referendum asks voters whether or not to uphold a policy that bans mandatory union fees.

The policy, which supporters call “right to work,” was passed by the Missouri General Assembly last year and signed into law by then-Gov. Eric Greitens. That law will appear on the ballot as Proposition A.

If voters approve it, Missouri would become the 28th state in the country to adopt right-to-work laws.

What does voting yes or no mean?

A “yes” vote on Proposition A would uphold the state’s right-to-work law. The law would allow workers to opt out of paying collective bargaining fees to unions.

A “no” vote on Proposition A would maintain Missouri’s current laws, under which non-union, private-sector workers can be required to pay for collective bargaining.

Didn’t “right to work” already pass?

Yes, the Missouri General Assembly passed the bill in 2017, and it was signed into law shortly after.

But the bill was never enacted because pro-labor groups submitted a petition to let voters have the final say through a referendum. The petition had more than 310,000 signatures. That’s why the measure is appearing on Tuesday’s ballot.

Who are the groups for and against Proposition A?

The vast majority of Republican lawmakers in Missouri have long pushed for a right-to-work law. Missouri’s law was sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, and Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston.

The measure is fiercely opposed by unions and other pro-labor groups, who have outspent their counterparts nearly 5 to 1 in recent months, thanks in part to a flood of out-of-state donations.

Proponents of the proposition argue that workers should not be forced to pay fees to organizations that contradict their political beliefs. Backers also say enacting the law would make Missouri a more inviting place for businesses to set up shop.

Opponents of the proposition argue that it undermines unions. They also say collective bargaining leads to better wages, even for non-union workers, and maintain that all beneficiaries of unions should contribute.

What does this mean for public and private unions?

Tuesday’s vote is relevant for Missouri’s private-sector workers, since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision already established a constitutional right for public-sector workers to refuse to pay collective bargaining fees.

Since the Court’s decision applied right-to-work rules to public-sector workers, Missouri’s vote will apply to private-sector workers.

How are Missouri unions doing?

Missouri and the U.S. have seen steady declines in labor membership. In 1983, 20.8 percent of Missouri’s employees were union members. By 2017, that number had dropped to 8.7 percent.

In 2017, the state had 226,000 union members, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

If defeated, could this issue be raised again in the future?

Yes. The issue could be brought up again in the next legislative session.

Pro-union groups are hoping to win in a landslide, though, thinking that would discourage politicians from raising the issue again soon, St. Louis Public Radio reports.

Will my vote on this affect my taxes?

No. The proposition will have no effect on taxes, whether it passes or not.

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