- - Friday, June 5, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On May 13, the Missouri General Assembly passed a right-to-work bill that could make the Show-Me state the 26th in the nation to prohibit unions from getting workers fired for not paying them.

This week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation, setting up the potential for a mid-September override battle with Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both chambers. The House passed the bill 92-66 and the Senate voted 21-13. Republicans will need a two-thirds vote from both chambers (23 in the Senate, 109 in the house) for an override.

If right-to-work were to survive, Missouri would be a tipping point: For the first time in modern American labor history, a majority of states would allow worker freedom. Besides the national significance of this drama, right-to-work offers benefits to Missouri’s economy, workers, elected officials, and even its unions.

Good for workers and the economy

Critics call it “right-to-work-for-less,” but the truth is quite the opposite. When measured by per capita personal income, workers in right-to-work states make about 4 percent more than their counterparts in states without right-to-work, when differences in the cost of living is factored in. In other words, people in right-to-work states have more purchasing power.

Employment depends on economic growth, and between 2003 and 2013, inflation-adjusted GDP grew by 21.5 percent in right-to-work states, compared with only 14.7 percent in non-right-to-work states. The difference was even more substantial in the manufacturing sector, which grew by 26.1 in right-to-work states, and 13.9 percent elsewhere. During the same time, right-to-work states added more jobs (4.3 million) than did states that allow unions to compel payment (2.4 million).

The difference in job growth may be because businesses look more favorably on right-to-work states. On May 14, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a Gallup poll of Missouri business leaders that was commissioned by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. The poll found that 54 percent of CEOs “strongly” agree that right-to-work would be good for the state. Consultants who help businesses find locations to expand said interest in Missouri as a place to grow would rise 60 percent if right-to-work were in place.

Good policy makes for good politics

For legislators and governors, recent experience suggests that far from being a liability, right-to-work can be a political asset. In every state that has enacted substantial labor reform, Republicans have maintained control of the governor’s mansion, and in some cases even increased their seats in the legislature.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won three elections in four years. Two of those came after he signed labor-reform legislation. Unions, for their part, lost several smaller elections that were seen as must-win proxy fights on the reforms.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who in 2012 signed a right-to-work law in Michigan — the birthplace of the UAW — easily won re-election in 2014. In 2014, not a single Michigan legislator who voted for right-to-work lost in the general election. Likewise, every Missouri legislator who was up for re-election after voting to advance right-to-work in committee was returned to office.

RTW good for unions

According to a recent Department of Labor report, unions in Indiana, the 23rd state to enact right-to-work, added 50,000 members in 2014. In right-to-work states unions must prove their worth to their membership to collect dues, which can make them stronger. And since more jobs are being created in right-to-work states, there are more opportunities for union growth.

Gary Casteel, the Southern region director for the United Auto Workers, maintains that right-to-work makes his work easier. In July 2014 he was quoted in The Washington Post saying that he prefers right-to-work for organizing new worksites.

“To me, it helps them,” Casteel said. “You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds, because it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”

Come September the lawmakers of the Show-Me state will have the opportunity to make a majority of the country right-to-work.

Right-to-work can help Missouri’s economy, increase jobs and wages for workers, benefit lawmakers, and even make unions stronger. More importantly, it would give workers the freedom to join and support unions or not. Everything else is secondary.

Peter Kinder is the lieutenant governor of Missouri and F. Vincent Vernuccio is the director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based research institution.

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