Across the nation, “right to work” bills have received a lot of attention. Twenty four states have adopted this legislation, most recently Indiana and Michigan. “Right to work” prohibits labor contracts from requiring all workers to pay union fees, regardless of whether they are union members.
Six of the eight states bordering Missouri have already passed “right to work,” one of which is Oklahoma. Bill Lant, representative from Pineville, sees a big difference between these two states.
“Last year in the state of Missouri we lost 53 thousand union jobs. The state of Oklahoma gained 24 thousand. So, something is going on in Oklahoma or right to work states that’s not happening in Missouri” Lant said.
Lant is chair of the Workforce Development and Workforce Safety Committee and has been working on the 12-person committee for the last four years. He states “right to work” is not an anti-union bill.
“The other states that have adopted ‘right to work’ policies have actually grown union membership and the way that’s happened is by those states attracting new industry. And as industry comes in of course the first people they want to hire are those who are the most well trained and experienced and in almost every case those are the union people,” Lant said.
Michael Frame, representative from Eureka and another Workforce Development and Safety Committee member, opposes “right to work.” As a former pipe fitter in multiple states for almost 25 years, Frame says the measure would decrease wages.
“I’ve seen folks go down to parts of Mississippi and were working for $12 an hour, union jobs, while up in Missouri they’re making $28 an hour at the time. In Missouri it has the opposite affect where you have strong unions that demand fair wages for their employees,” Frame said.
Frame believes if you don’t make non-union members pay service fees to their unions, it will weaken unions throughout the state.
“If I’m not forced to pay at least a service fee for a valued service already being done in my behalf, there’s going to be a lot of folks that say, ‘I’m not going to pay, I’d love to pay for it but I can’t’ or ‘I’m just not going to pay for it.’ And after a while that will become a bigger and bigger issue and eventually there will be no money for representing you and your co-workers. Well there not doing anything because you’ve completely defunded them,” Frame said.
However, Representative Lant states the number of unions has been decreasing over the last few decades anyway.
“There were 500 union freight companies that hulled LGL freights when I worked for the freight companies in 1980. Today there are only two. So I can’t see where ‘right to work’ could hurt the unions any worse than the other factors that are bothering them. They had a 37 percent of the workforce in 1978 and today they have about seven percent.”
Kevin King has been a business manager at the Roofers Union in Kansas City for almost two decades. He thinks it’s unfair for people to accept union help without paying any fees.
“Look I’m not in it for self-gratification for me. I’m in there to work for my members as hard as I can and also my contractors. I guess the question is, ‘Is it fair to the other guys that are doing that and helping the union and knowing what they stand for and then having another guy possibly working next to them that doesn’t?’” King said.
Supporters of “right to work” are trying to get it passed by the Missouri legislature. That would then put it on the August ballot for voter approval.