Greitens signs right-to-work bill into law, marking turning point for Missouri organized labor

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In an abandoned factory in Springfield and a business park in Poplar Bluff, Gov. Eric Greitens held ceremonial signing ceremonies celebrating the first bill of his tenure as governor, one that could arguably prove to be the most monumental of his entire term in office.

Sen. Dan Brown’s SB 19, the right-to-work bill, officially became law Monday, making Missouri the 28th state in the country to adopt such a policy. The official signing of the bill came at the Capitol in the governor’s office where nearly all of the pro-right-to-work Republican legislators flanked Greitens, most notably Brown and Rep. Holly Rehder, the House handler of Brown’s bill.

“Today represents a great victory for the people of Missouri and especially those families who are looking for jobs,” Greitens said in Jefferson City. “Passing right-to-work sends a very clear message: that the people of Missouri are ready to work, and Missouri is open for business.”

Gov. Eric Greitens gives a brief statement moments before signing Sen. Dan Brown's right-to-work bill into law Feb 6, 2017. (Travis Zimpfer/THE MISSOURI TIMES)

Gov. Eric Greitens gives a brief statement moments before signing Sen. Dan Brown’s right-to-work bill into law Feb 6, 2017. (Travis Zimpfer/THE MISSOURI TIMES)

Greitens did not take questions at the Jefferson City signing.

The right-to-work law ends the requirement of workers in unionized workplaces to join a union, basically killing the idea of a closed shop or union shop. Essentially, those employees who do not wish to be represented by a union in a union shop can opt out of paying dues, though still collect the benefits of collective bargaining. Unions have criticized the law for infringing on the right to freedom of association, while proponents say it provides economic prosperity and gives workers more rights in the workplace.

Since Republicans gained control of both the House and Senate more than a decade ago, conservatives have attempted to sign a right-to-work bill into law. Former Gov. Jay Nixon, a labor-friendly Democrat, blocked multiple attempts to put right-to-work into statute, most notably in 2015, but Greitens campaigned heavily in support of the issue.

Missouri’s business organizations, like the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Associated Industries of Missouri, praised Greitens’ quick work in signing the bill.

“Our new status as a right-to-work state puts Missouri on a course for greater economic success even as we continue our efforts to reform our legal climate, improve workforce training and invest in transportation infrastructure,” said Dan Mehan, the President and CEO of the Missouri Chamber, in a statement. “While there is still much to do, becoming a right-to-work state is a historic accomplishment. It changes the narrative about Missouri and the Missouri Chamber is optimistic about where we are heading.”

Union leaders were less pleased by the passage of the bill. Al Bond, the executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis – Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, said the bill indicated Greitens “chose millionaire CEOs and out-of-state corporate special interests over Missouri’s working families.”

“This bill is not only bad policy that will lower wages, benefits and workplace safety for Missouri’s working families, but it’s legally flawed,” Bond said in a statement. “The St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council will continue to fight for Missouri’s working families.”

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty criticized Greitens’ decision to sign the bill in two abandoned factories in Poplar Bluff and Springfield, cities with relatively little union presence.

“Gov. Greitens should have had the courage to sign this bill into law before employees at Boeing, Ford or one of the many other proud union shops in our state so he could explain to their faces exactly how Missouri will be better off when they have less power to negotiate for higher wages, decent benefits and safer working conditions,” McCann Beatty said in a statement.

Regardless of the criticism, Greitens’ signature on the right-to-work bill ends a historic chapter in the Missouri Legislature’s history… unless AFL-CIO President Mike Louis can collect enough signatures by Aug. 28 to send the law to the 2018 ballot. The referendum petition would bar the law from going into effect on that date, as it’s scheduled to do, until the November 2018 elections.

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