‘Right to work’ explained | St. Louis Public Radio

‘Right to work’ explained

Sep 2, 2015

Credit UPI/Bill Greenblatt

The debate on ‘right to work’ was at the forefront of Missouri’s most recent legislative session. 

The Missouri House and Senate both passed a bill in favor, which would have prohibited employers and unions from requiring members of a bargaining unit to pay dues. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it, saying, “I don’t think this bill is right for the state.”

And now, a veto session is planned for September 16—but despite Republicans’ veto-proof majority, the legislature may not be able to reverse Nixon’s decision.

Continuing with the day’s focus on labor history, political reporter Jo Mannies joined “St. Louis on the Air” to discuss the arguments for and against a Missouri ‘right to work’ bill and the history of the issue in regional politics.

“Under right to work, employers and unions would be barred from requiring workers to pay union dues or fees if a majority votes to organize,” Mannies said. Missouri’s bill would also impose penalties—even potential jail time—for employers who refuse, or are late, to change their policy.

To override Nixon’s veto, the Missouri General Assembly needs more votes in the House and Senate. But Mannies said that might be more complicated than it sounds. St. Charles County's legislators may be a crucible. Although the county's legislators are generally Republican, many of their constituents are union members or retirees who oppose "right to work."  Mannies says that's why many of the county's lawmakers voted against the bill and, so far, have not indicated plans to switch.

“St. Louis has always been a strong labor town,” Mannies said, and union membership in the area is slightly higher than the state average. But union membership in Missouri as a whole is low: eight and a half percent of the total workforce.

The low numbers prompt argument from both sides. “You’ve got some of the advocates who contend that even though Missouri’s union workforce is low…they say that eight and a half percent are holding back everybody else,” Mannies said. “Then you’ve got the labor side, who are saying, ‘If we’re only eight and a half percent, why are you bothering with us?’ That’s the debate.”  

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.