Show Me the Worker Freedom

Right-to-Work Vote in Missouri

Brave elected officials and grassroots activists are fighting to make Missouri the 25th state in the country to give workers the freedom to choose whether they want to pay dues or fees to a union.

For the first time in more than 35 years lawmakers in the Show-Me state are seriously considering right-to-work.

In early April, right-to-work legislation won majority approval 78-68 in the Missouri House but failed to receive the 82 "yes" votes necessary to send the bill to the Senate. A simple majority of those present is needed for early approval of a bill, but to send legislation to the Senate, a full majority of the entire chamber is necessary.

Eleven house Republicans were not present and some even admitted to "taking a walk" or intentionally missing the vote.

With the part-time Missouri Legislature in recess now, any potential right-to-work legislation will need to wait until they reconvene in January 2015.

Still there is reason for optimism.

As Mary Hill, executive director of Missouri Employment Freedom, explained: "For the first time we got a vote in the House." Hill attributed the vote to "regular grassroots people doing the job."

What appears to be a temporary setback can be simply a step toward eventual victory. Indiana had several votes before finally passing its right-to-work legislation in early 2012. Also as Missouri did in 1978, Indiana lost a right-to-work battle decades earlier when the law was repealed in 1965 after only eight years on the books.

Indiana's comeback, followed by Michigan's right-to-work legislation, has shown that today’s times are now different and states across the country are ready for worker freedom.

Missouri Republican state Rep. Eric Burlison, the bill’s sponsor, was not disheartened, calling the vote "a groundbreaking step toward true worker freedom in Missouri." Rep. Burlison went on to say it is "an enormous victory for working Missourians as freedom to work progressed further in the Legislature than it ever has, paving the way for future efforts."

According to the Missouri Times, state House Speaker Tim Jones has made right-to-work "a top priority during his tenure as speaker."

As Jones told The Washington Post shortly after the April vote: "You have to set aside the politics, and you have to decide what is good economic policy for the state of Missouri. I'm trying to keep them focused on jobs and the economy."

Legislators and activists in Missouri are not alone. The issue hit the national stage last August when Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announced at an American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in Chicago that he expected his House and Senate to put right-to-work on the ballot and bypass a likely veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Since then, organizations from around the country, including Grover Norquist's  Americans for Tax Reform, American Conservative Union, Freedom Works and the National Right to Work Committee, have been helping the freedom fighters of Missouri stop forced dues in their state.

The Mackinac Center is no exception. Over the past year through our "You Can, Too" tour, we have been on the ground floor of the effort, providing intellectual ammunition and educating on why worker freedom is right for every state.

"The Mackinac Center's in-depth research on right-to-work played a crucial role in moving the bill forward by educating legislators on the clear benefits of worker freedom," Rep. Burlison said.

It all started last February when Audrey Spalding, our director of education policy who came to the Center from our sister think tank in Missouri, the Show-Me Institute, sent a letter to free market groups in her former state about the "You Can, Too" tour.

The response was swift. Requests for interviews and speaking engagements started coming in almost immediately. Missouri quickly became one of the first key states on the tour.

Since then, I have been to Missouri four times, including once to testify at the first House hearing on right-to-work in January 2014.

After Michigan enacted right-to-work on that cold day in December 2012, many states asked, "If Michigan can do it why can't we?"

Of those states, Missouri is one of the top candidates to pass the reform in the near future. This in no small part because of the hard work of elected officials like Rep. Burlison, Lt. Gov. Kinder, Speaker Jones and activists like Mary Hill.