Contributed By: Jordan Lam, Referral Specialist
Amidst all of the special election drama taking place in the most recent round of midterm contests, there was one proposition in Missouri that went largely overlooked. In fact, history was made on Tuesday, August 7th when voters in Missouri blocked the State Republican lawmakers’ efforts to establish Proposition A, a law that would have crippled Missouri’s unions by prohibiting them from charging fees to workers who simply didn’t want to pay them.
These fees have long been in place to pay for collective bargaining by unions that resulted in benefits we all take for granted now; like paid maternity leave and even weekends off from work. These were once “sticking points” that needed to be argued and fought for by unions, just as unions fight continue to fight for fair practices today. The oddly named “Right-to-Work” laws are really a misnomer; they are more of a right to weaken unions.
Missouri’s worker victory is the first of its kind in over seven years, since Ohio used a similar ballot referendum to the same successful end in 2011. Since then, no States have tried. While big business and Republican dominated courts work overtime to weaken unions, Missouri’s is a particularly sweet victory. And it comes on the heels of the US Supreme Court’s June ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which mandated right-to-work rules for all government unions.
Missouri’s vote is a sign that unions are far from dead. And while over three in ten workers were once in union, today’s number is one in ten. And not coincidentally, the wealth gap has swelled, and while a CEO once made about 20 times the salary of a worker, today it’s close to 270 times. But big business and the millionaire lobbyists who lobby the billionaire corporations don’t seem to notice or care.
This was not an easy proposition to defeat. These pro-business forces doubled and tripled-down to make Missouri a “right-to-work” State. They pumped major donor dollars into blanketed ad campaigns that encouraged workers to pay nothing to their unions. To be “free riders” in effect. In response, the workers of Missouri fought back. They built an impressive grass-roots campaign, eventually gathering 300,000 signatures to qualify the referendum. Construction workers, ironworkers, and steelworkers knocked on about half a million doors to mobilize voters to the polls, and they not only defeated the Republican proposal—they beat it by a whopping two-to-one margin!
Fortunately workers were able to see past the phony rhetoric and realize that this was an attack on workers’ rights– nothing more, nothing less. Now, workers in Missouri will be able to fight any threats to their safety with well-funded and strong unions behind them. The bad news is currently 27 states allow “free riders.” To make matters worse, there is an effort underway to make all states follow these same union-weakening laws. But the lesson of Missouri is the worker doesn’t have to sit back and watch it happen. The worker is far from helpless.
Missouri is a shining example that workers today can pull together to fight back corporate greed, and ensure the standard of living, health and safety they so richly deserve. Missouri reminded workers everywhere that there is strength in numbers–and isn’t that what unions have always been about?