By Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain
On Aug. 7, Missourians handily defeated Proposition A, a statewide so-called “right to work” measure in a sweeping victory. At a 2:1 ratio, Missouri voters pushed back against this dangerous legislation and attracted national attention for creating a pathway forward for unions, inspiration for workers, and a renewed vigor for the labor movement on the heels of the Janus V. AFSCME decision in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.
What’s more, it has snapped politicians to attention. Following the landslide vote against Prop. A, former Missouri governor Jay Nixon told Politico “I wouldn’t want to be on the ballot if I was in favor of right to work in 90 days. Clearly, there’s been a path defined.”
While Nixon isn’t on the ballot, his statement carries a lot of weight. In the months leading up to Janus, stories about unions’ declining power were frequent. They counted us out, despite the wave of educators walking out and striking across the country. In Oregon, we saw the struggles at places like Burgerville and Volunteers of America as indicators of a rising tide of collective action. Missouri is the proof of that, showing us what happens when unions truly stand together to defend workers’ rights.
The hustle by unions on the ground in Missouri was remarkable. Dedicated union members, leaders and staff from across the country were embedded in the robust campaign, including over a dozen from Oregon. Together with Missouri’s union movement, they knocked over 800,000 doors. They dominated the airwaves with ads, ran robust digital media campaigns and texted and called voters to mobilize supporters of the campaign to knock out Prop. A. The campaign also focused on persuading voters to reach across party lines to support Missouri’s unions. According to Politico, as many as half of the Republicans who voted did so against Prop A., accounting for about 300,000 votes in a state where Republican legislators have pushed for “right to work” for years.
Equally impressive are the 310,000+ signatures turned in by Missouri’s unions to repeal “right to work” last year. For years, anti-union legislators attempted to pass “right-to-work” which finally stuck in 2017, leading to the August 7 election and subsequent victory at the polls. Missouri’s unions’ dedication to defending workers’ rights and refusing to become the U.S.’s 28th state under “right to work” should be a lesson to all of us. Both the signature-gathering and the following electoral campaign should serve as a roadmap for how unions can fight back in an age where corporate dollars pour into any politician or law seeking to shut us down.
Oregon’s union movement is taking notes from Missouri. While efforts to undermine our unions in Oregon may look different than in Missouri, there is no shortage of work to do to make Oregon a place where working people have a fair shot at prosperity. Whether it’s defeating ballot measures which hurt workers, defending a champion for workers like Governor Kate Brown, or electing a new advocate for workers’ rights to our legislature, union members will be busy across Oregon this election season. Missouri’s example of fusing union solidarity with cutting edge campaigning is how we can win big for working people here in Oregon, and how unions around the country can turn the tide against attacks on our rights.