Unions look to force statewide vote with 310,000 signatures seeking to block right-to-work

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It seems that, pending a review of petitions by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Missouri labor unions’ efforts in the fight to push back right-to-work laws from taking effect in the Show-Me State have been successful.

Thousands of anti-RTW protesters crowded the State Capitol on Friday morning, rallying with flags and signs as they submitted the signatures needed to suspend the right-to-work law from taking effect.

The minimum requirement to qualify for ballot placement was approximately 107,510 signatures in 6 of 8 congressional districts. Supporters managed to gather 163 boxes, 57,277 pages, and 310,567 signatures calling for voters to weigh in on the controversial measure that had been passed by the Missouri Legislature this past session.

The new law, which was set to go into effect on Aug. 28, would have protected workers from being compelled to join or pay dues to a labor union as a condition of their employment.

The successful efforts from the unions struck a major blow against Gov. Eric Greitens and the Republican-led Legislature, as an estimated 2,000 people attended the rally and march to the Secretary of State’s Office, chanting “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like” and “Hey Greitens, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”

Their message to Republicans was a simple one: “Right-to-work is wrong for this state.”

“Right-to-work is wrong. It’s wrong for Missouri workers. It’s wrong for Missouri families. It’s time for Governor Greitens and extreme politicians to stop doing the bidding of their dark money donors and begin fighting for Missouri families,” Lori Giannini from St. Charles County said.

“Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law,” they said, echoing the very words etched into the stone of the front of the State Capitol. They wanted to remind the state legislators and elected officials that they “work for all Missourians, not just corporations and business owners.”

“We’ve come together and put in countless hours gathering signatures from voters at festivals, community events, door-to-door canvasses, parades—you name it,” said Bobby Dicken, an electrician from Butler County. “These folks who’ve signed the petition want their voices to be heard—they want voters—not politicians—to make the final decision on whether so-called “right-to-work” becomes law in Missouri.

Speaking before hundreds and hundreds in the crowd, with people watching from nearly every floor of the Capitol rotunda, representatives of each congressional district from which the petitions had been gathered unveiled the total signatures.

  • District 1: 40,636 signatures
  • District 2: 44,890 signatures
  • District 3: 52,711 signatures
  • District 4: 34,734 signatures
  • District 5: 35,488 signatures
  • District 6: 36,438 signatures
  • District 7: 33,459 signatures
  • District 8: 32,122 signatures

The unions were able to stop the law from going into effect by using a special referendum provision in state law, which hasn’t been used since the 1980’s, but they are taking hope in the fact that Missouri voters have repealed laws in 24 of the 26 times that they have been placed on the ballot.

Missouri Republicans, however, are not backing down just yet.

“Union bosses and Big Labor groups are being dishonest with Missourians about right-to-work, and as a result, we are seeing thousands of people rescind their signature from these anti-right-to-work petitions,” Todd Graves, Chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said. “Right to Work simply gives individuals the choice of whether or not they want to join a union, instead of being forced to as a condition of employment. And that’s something that terrifies the big union bosses in control of collecting mandatory union dues.”

“National union bosses descended on Missouri and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on paid signature gatherers and media campaigns to mislead Missourians about right-to-work.  Now courts will determine whether many of the signatures they’ve submitted are even valid,” Sen. Bob Onder said.  “Union bosses are attempting to stifle the will of Missouri voters who voted for a pro-right-to-work legislature and governor in order to create jobs and protect workers. Every signature must be examined to protect the integrity of the referendum process. We will continue to fight for worker freedom.”

“Right-to-work restores the balance of power between workers and union bosses,” Rep. Holly Rehder said in a statement. “Other states have proven right-to-work laws make unions accountable to their members, just as all member organizations should be. Right-to-work states have increased union membership while Missouri decreases every year. The increases are due to accountability to the members and more jobs coming in. We cannot continue with the same antiquated labor laws and expect different results.”

Even if some of the signatures are thrown out, the fact remains that the unions collected roughly three times the number needed to suspend the law, with signatures from all 114 Missouri counties and enough to qualify all eight congressional districts.

Those signatures now will be reviewed by the Secretary of State’s Office and local election authorities. If the required number is there, then the referendum will be scheduled to be put before Missouri voters on the November 2018 ballot, providing labor unions with at least one more year before the law could take effect.

Until then, both the unions and pro-RTW groups are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in their attempts to sway voters before that election. Both sides have already seen five- or even six-figure checks put to use, and that trend will likely continue as the battle for right-to-work continues to intensify over the course of the next 14 months.

  

Benjamin Peters

Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email benjamin@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.

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