Here's an in-depth look at the Right to Work issue.
What a difference a state election and three months can make. For the second time in history, the Missouri Senate has advanced legislation that will make the Show-Me State the 28th right-to-work (RTW) state. Senate Bill 19, introduced by Rolla’s Republican Senator Dan Brown, gives Missouri workers the right to work without being forced to join a union. For decades, opposing sides of the issue in Missouri have battled over whether the legislation was “pro-union” or “anti-union,” and it was politically expedient to say it was “for the American worker” or “against the American worker.”
Following a 2008 recession that has dragged on with lingering effects, Missouri’s economy has lagged. According to Senator Brown, Missouri has lost many opportunities to other Right-to-Work (RTW) states that surround Missouri. Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa and most recently, Kentucky, are all RTW states with the only holdout being Illinois.
“When project managers are looking for sites for new companies they send out requests for information and one of the top five questions is whether the state is RTW,” said Senator Brown.
The Pro Tem Ron Richards, who has been involved in economic development in Mo. for many years, was asked by Nissan and Toyota if Mo. was a RTW state and he said “no,”—they just boarded the plane and left. Neither company was interested.” They wound up in Tennessee, a RTW state.
Cyndra Lorey, executive director of the Rolla Regional Economic Commission and on the Missouri Economic Development Council agrees.
“Many times our state has been overlooked, before even given a chance on projects,” she says.
“I’m not advocating whether Missouri should be [RTW] or shouldn’t be [RTW], but I’ll comment on the reality of it. When large companies start looking for places to expand or to build a new plant, they start out with a list of things they look for.”
Lorey says her state economic development group has been told by consultants that to advance company relocation scouting, that they don’t want to be in a state unless they are RTW.
“It’s about the lost opportunities. We can’t count the number of times, because we don’t know how often we’ve been overlooked.”
Noting that he’s not anti-union, Senator Brown says a RTW law doesn’t mean you can’t unionize. RTW legislation says you can’t force a worker to pay union dues to work on a job or force them to support union political candidates.
“When Okla. became a RTW state, their union membership actually went up, because the unions were much more responsive to the members,” says Brown.
Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis claims RTW legislation is bad for Missouri’s working families. “Passing the so-called Right to Work legislation marks a ridiculous overreach, putting government interference into relationships between business owners and their employees,” said Louis.
“It puts worksites on the path to becoming dangerous. It jeopardizes the ability for all Missouri’s families to live a decent life, especially our middle class families, the poor and underprivileged.”
Louis and the unions have typically pointed to lower wages in RTW states when compared to states without RTW legislation.
James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics for the Heritage Foundation says that doesn’t explain the whole picture. Testifying before the committee on Labor and Government Reform for the Wisconsin Senate in that state’s battle to draft RTW legislation, he said unions have responded with empirical research finding RTW states have lower wages. He says this research used statistically biased methods to control for costs of living.
“Correcting this reveals RTW laws have little effect on private-sector wages,” said Sherk.
“Controlling for other factors, RTW states also have a 1.3 percentage point lower unemployment rates than non-RTW states.”
Senator Brown notes, “In Okla., wages actually went up when they became a RTW state.”
But the argument is not only about being forced to join a union and pay dues. Within worker rights legislation is something called “prevailing wage law (PWL).” This was called the Davis-Bacon Act enacted back in the 1930’s.
Senator Brown says, “When you look at RTW, prevailing wage laws (PWL), and how intertwined those two are, a lot of these public jobs, such as here in Rolla, are subject to PWL in Missouri.” “Both Okla. and Ks. have done away with PWL for project cost reasons. They can build 30 percent more roadway for the same dollars as we can here in Mo.”
“On a project, if there is any public money involved, the Mo. PWL applies to those projects,” says Brown.
He says if you are an “open shop contractor” (not unionized), if you report enough of those wages, then the prevailing wage will be that number. “However, there’s never enough wages reported, so the prevailing wage in Rolla or Phelps County is set by AFL-CIO in St. Louis. So, we have to pay the same rate as they do in downtown St. Louis, which to a lot of us, does not seem fair.”
According to Senator Brown, the Mo. prevailing wage is higher than the federal prevailing wage. He says construction projects in this area will cost around 30 percent more because of the prevailing wage law.
“Even the open shop contractor has to pay the prevailing wage,” he explains.
Senator Brown says there is enough research on this issue right now that shows the number of jobs being created and the number of businesses that are being built in states with RTW.”
“When you look at Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City Kan., everything is going to the Kansas side. Part of that is income tax, but a lot of it is labor issues, and yet, the union manages to produce statistics that talk about how much better union workers have it without RTW. They’ve never been able to explain to me how the labor union grows jobs. To me, it’s a no-brainer at this point in life.
How does this affect small-town Missouri? “If they don’t look at Missouri, they surely aren’t going to look at Rolla,” says Cyndra Lorey.
“We think that it is quite possible that we have had a large loss—that it had some bearing on when we were trying to court Caterpillar here, because we were told by their president that they would have preferred that we were a RTW state. We know there were other things that went into their decision making process, such as supplier locations, material shipping, etc., but Caterpiller eventually wound up in Wisc. for their expansion plans.”
“When they take you off the table before they even start looking at those things, it’s hard,“ she says. “If a company says I want a location in the Midwest, and no one was RTW, everyone is on the same playing field.” She says when your bordering state neighbors are all RTW, it’s hard to compete.
“People need to understand that companies have options to go other places.”
Local opinion varies on the subject and comments on the Daily Guide’s Facebook page ranged from support, to neutral, to vehement opposition.
Ken A. Rathman said, “I agree with "right to Work". The Unions were good for something back in the early days. (other then head busting) But, too many are there for the money generated by the dues. Part of the reason the Big 3 auto makers and others, have shipped jobs out of the country is due to union wages.”
William Slaubaugh said, “I favor right to work laws but recognize that trade unions are absolutely essential to keep ownership honest. There must be a middle ground for both.”
Debora Rice said, “Not a fan. It was voted down, and yet they try to shove it on us anyways. They ask. We answered. They ignore. God Bless Amercia.”
Mary Clay said, “It SUCKS. Voted against it.”