Missouri Gov. Greitens signs right-to-work legislation | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Greitens signs right-to-work legislation

Feb 6, 2017

Gov. Eric Greitens took a road trip Monday in celebration of making Missouri the nation's 28th right-to-work state.

The Republican signed Senate Bill 19, which bars unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues, at three ceremonies. The first one was in Springfield at an abandoned warehouse before a small crowd of supporters.

“For too long in the state of Missouri, for too long people bowed down to intimidation, they bowed down to powerful union bosses who acted to protect their own interests instead of protecting the interest of Missouri workers,” Greitens said.

The ceremony was disrupted briefly by about 10 pro-union demonstrators who shouted “right to work, wrong for us!” They were escorted out a minute later.

Gov. Eric Greitens signs legislation making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state at a ceremony Monday in Springfield.
Credit Scott Harvey | KSMU

Greitens said the new law won’t eliminate unions but instead will make them more responsive and accountable to their members.

“A union member can now say to them, ‘Tell me what this union does for me, tell me how joining this union is going to make my life better,’ ” he said. “If they have good answers, you can give them your money, but if they don’t, then starting today, workers have the choice to keep their money and keep their jobs.”

That choice actually doesn't start until Aug. 28, when the law takes effect.

This session's tussle over labor issues won't end with the bill signing. Republican lawmakers want to suspend or permanently scrap the prevailing minimum wage that exists for construction and renovation projects, including those at K-12 schools. The GOP also is backing a bill to require public workers to opt in — not opt out — every year before union dues can be automatically deducted from their paychecks. 

Several business-friendly organizations applauded Greitens' quick action on signing the right-to-work legislation, which supporters say will help bring jobs to Missouri. 

“Right-to-work is a common sense reform that will grow jobs, increase our state’s GDP, and ensure that Missouri is never left out of the conversation when businesses across the globe seek to expand or relocate,” Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Dan Mehan said. “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.”

Organized labor says the legislation will lead to lower wages and have an uncertain impact on economic growth.

“It’s sad to see Gov. Greitens and the Republican legislature cave to big donors, corporations and special interests at the expense of Missouri’s working families,” said Vanessa Coleman with the Service Employees International Union. “The janitors, higher education faculty, school cafeteria workers, and sports facility workers of SEIU Local 1 will continue to fight for an economy that works for all of us, not just well-connected and out-of-touch billionaires.”

Labor interests also have filed a rarely used referendum petition, sometimes called a “citizens veto,” that would delay implementation of the right-to-work law until voters get to weigh in, which likely would be in 2018.

Even if that's successful, the Republican who carried the bill in the Missouri House says she's not worried.

“Two years ago we offered to take it to a vote of the people, and you know, negotiate that with the unions, and they didn’t want to,” said Rep. Holly Rehder of Sikeston, “so I think that we very well would win if we took it to a vote of the people, so that does not concern me.”

The referendum’s backers have until August 28 to gather enough signatures, or else the law takes effect as scheduled. Michael Louis, CEO of Missouri AFL-CIO, said they need roughly 165,000 signatures, or five percent of the people that voted in at least six of Missouri's congressional districts.

Follow Marshall on Twitter, @MarshallGReport