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Missouri voters deliver major blow to anti-union law in referendum

Sixty-seven percent of voters voted against Proposition A, which would have weakened unions in the state.

A voter casts her ballot at the Missouri National Guard Armory on November 8, 2016 in Lebanon, Missouri. CREDIT: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
A voter casts her ballot at the Missouri National Guard Armory on November 8, 2016 in Lebanon, Missouri. CREDIT: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

On Tuesday night, Missouri voters delivered a strong rebuke of anti-union policies, rejecting a right-to-work law that would have weakened unions in the state.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, 67 percent of voters voted against the measure, Proposition A. The law would have allowed workers to reap the benefits of a union contract while opting out of paying union dues. With less reasons to feel compelled to join a union, many workers will decide not to. Twenty-seven states currently have such laws.

This is the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-union ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that voters have had a chance to express their views on what powers labor unions should be able to exercise.

Despite these developments, Missouri voters supported unions’ power to collect money in order to bolster collective bargaining and other union services. In February of last year, Missouri Eric Greitens (R), who has since left office after a sexual assault investigation, signed the right-to-work bill, but before it ecame law, petitioners gathered 250,000 signatures to allow voters to consider it as a referendum.

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In response to the victory, Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in a statement to The New York Times, “It shows how out of touch those institutions are. How out of touch the Republican legislature in Missouri is, how out of touch the Supreme Court is.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, voters in both rural and urban areas strongly opposed the law. A deeply conservative county, St. Charles, saw 72 percent of voters cast their ballots in opposition to the law. Sixty percent of voters in the state also rejected a right-to-work measure when it was on the ballot in 1978.

United Auto Workers union member Michelle Whitley told the Post-Dispatch, “I’ve seen the facts of states that have laws like right to work. It’s just not a good thing for our state.”

Workers in states with right-to-work laws don’t fare as well as counterparts in states without these laws, research shows. The laws are associated with lower wages and minimal benefits for both workers in and outside of unions. The average worker in a right-to-work state makes 3.2 percent less in their hourly wages compared to an average worker in a state without this type of law.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, there isn’t substantial evidence to suggest any causal pattern of economic indicators improving or declining in states with right-to-work laws. Although a 2007 study found that these laws can increase the number of businesses in a state, the study stated that the findings do not mean non-unionized workers will benefit in any real way with higher wages, employment, or per-capita personal income.

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A recent Gallup poll showed U.S. approval of labor unions is at 61 percent, up five percentage points from last year and 13 points above the all-time low in 2009. There was an increase in union membership last year, despite the long-term trend of union membership decline, and there are signs that millennials are energizing the labor movement.