Anti-union Republicans thought they had a slam dunk. They had the governor’s office and all the votes they needed in the Legislature to pass a law last year making Missouri America’s 28th “right-to-work” state. Then Missouri voters got to have a say. On Aug. 7, they rejected the anti-union law by a landslide 67 percent.
So-called “right-to-work” laws are intended to weaken unions by barring private employers from signing union contracts that require all workers to pay union dues or fees. Missourians rejected right-to-work once before, in 1978, by 60 percent. Union membership rates have fallen by half since then, but if the Aug. 7 vote is any sign, Missourians are even more pro-union 40 years later.
Backed by his union and answering a call from the national AFL-CIO, Oregon union organizer Scott Strickland of Operating Engineers Local 701 spent the last five days leading up to the election knocking on doors in small towns like Peculiar, Missouri, outside Kansas City.
“It was really inspiring,” Strickland said. “The experiences I had on the ground talking to people really strengthened my belief that unions provide benefits to everyone, not just union members.… We would talk to people and even if they weren’t a union member they’d say, ‘My mom was a union member and that’s why I have this house.’”
Joining members of Missouri Local 101 of the Operating Engineers and other pro-union volunteers, Strickland spoke with over 300 people at more than 200 homes, as part of the canvass effort organized by the union-backed anti-Proposition A group We Are Missouri.
It was by any standard a massive effort, drawing union staff from around the nation to Missouri. The “no” campaign raised over $16 million, compared to $5.2 million for the “yes” campaign.
Besides Strickland, at least 15 others from Oregon went to Missouri: UFCW Local 555 sent a crew of 13 people for 10 days. And the Oregon AFL-CIO sent regional field staff members Evan Lasley and Noah Goldberg-Jaffe for a week.
The right-to-work law — passed as Senate Bill 19 last year — would have taken effect on Aug. 28, 2017. But the Missouri AFL-CIO gathered more than 310,000 signatures — three times as many as they needed — to refer it to the ballot. The measure was supposed to appear on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot, but the Republican-majority Legislature earlier this year voted on party lines to move the election to Aug. 7, thinking that a low-turnout would work in their favor.
In the end, the tally was 937,241 to 452,075: 67 percent of Missouri voters said no to “right to work.”