JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Freedom to Work may have failed as an initiative petition but voters may still see the issue on the November ballot.
House Joint Resolution 79, sponsored by Rep. Rick Brattin, which seeks to change the constitution to make Missouri a right-to-work state, is on the fast track in the General Assembly.
Having sat untouched since January, the resolution was referred to committee on May 7. Then on May 9, the resolution passed through Economic Development and Legislative Oversight, and on May 11, was perfected by the Missouri House.
The expedited legislative process comes after a failed effort to collect enough signatures to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot through initiative petition. The political action committee spent more than $750,000 on the campaign since January, they even received another $500,000 donation from A New Missouri on May 8 — after the deadline to submit signatures had passed.
The proposed ballot language of the amendments reads, “Do you want to amend the Missouri Constitution to provide that every employee shall have the freedom to work without being forced to pay any fees to a union (labor organization) or join a union in order to gain or keep a job?”
This would make Missouri a right-to-work state, which means employees can opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented. Though a statutory change, the Missouri General Assembly voted in 2017 to become a right-to-work state and the governor assigned the change into law. But citizens collected more than double the necessary signatures to put a repeal of the law on the ballot — which may be on the August primary ballot based on a resolution now it the House.
Voters will decide on Prop A, the RTW referendum, whether or not to adopted SB 19, which is a statutory change that prohibits union membership as a condition of employment. This is not to be confused with the resolution perfect by the Missouri House on Friday. HJR 79 would ask the voters to approve or disapprove a constitutional amendment specifying that a person cannot be required to become or refrain from becoming a member of or paying dues to a labor organization as a condition or continuation of employment.
“This will ensure once and for all, enshrining in our Constitution, you have the ability to choose what you belong to,” said Brattin.
Supporters argued that resolution is meant to secure the personal liberties and freedoms of all working people and that is meant to help workers in the state because if a worker doesn’t want to join a union, they shouldn’t have.
“I have got hundreds of Teamsters that live in my district, and I’ve sat at their kitchen tables, and talk to them about their pension funds,” said Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo in an impassioned inquiry. “And they say, ‘You are my Representative, help me. Help me. I can’t pay into this for another 15 more years and get nothing back. Where is my money going?’
“You know why I am for Right-to-Work, gentlemen? Because I those gentlemen, those men and women, to take their money and invest it the way they see fit.”
But opponents say the resolution is an attack on labor, and an effort to undercut the referendum and confuse voters.
“To me, this is undermining the democratic process,” said Rep. Karla May.
Those in opposition to the resolution also argued that the benefits to becoming a right-to-work state just aren’t there.
In an impassioned monologue, Rep. Doug Beck that right-to-work has never worked for voters.
“We heard in committee…that [in] right-to-work states, their union membership goes up. He cited Indiana and that’s true. 22 other right-to-work states declined. Though we can cherry pick things, we can talk about stuff, but over time union membership declines, over time the voice of the worker goes away, over time workplace deaths go up. These are all happened with right-to-work. They are not fairy tales…this is what happened, this is the truth.”
He went on say that the “attack on workers needs to stop in this state.”
Rep. Justin Alferman argued that being for right-to-work doesn’t make him anti-labor.
“There is extremist rhetoric on both sides of the issues,” said Alferman. He argued that this is necessary to give workers a choice.
“There is passion on both sides of the issue,” noted Vescovo.
The resolution needs one more vote by the Missouri House before it can move to the Senate with five legislative days left to the regular session.
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.