Missouri shows support for unions

Voters reject right-to-work law sought by Rauner in first public test since Janus ruling

Gov. Rauner has sought right-to-work laws like the one rejected Tuesday by Missouri voters. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Gov. Rauner has sought right-to-work laws like the one rejected Tuesday by Missouri voters. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected a right-to-work law Tuesday in the first major public test of union support after the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus ruling earlier this year.

Missouri's state legislature had passed the law, and it was signed by disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, but union organizers succeeded in delaying it until a referendum could decide the issue.

Voters rejected it by a 2-to-1 margin in a state won by President Trump by 19 percentage points in 2016.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that unions serving government workers cannot collect so-called fair-share fees for the work they do on behalf of employees. In Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner immediately used that decision to try to undercut union membership.

The Missouri law would have extended those restrictions to private unions as well, but voters halted that.

Rauner has openly envied right-to-work laws passed in neighboring states Wisconsin and Indiana. Blocked by the General Assembly from passing such laws, he has sought to allow local governments to impose them. Judges have declared it's a statewide issue, but while a Lincolnshire right-to-work law works its way through the courts, Rauner successfully vetoed a law last year that would have banned such local initiatives.

The Liberty Justice Center, the legal arm of the conservative, anti-union, anti-tax Illinois Policy Institute, has argued Lincolnshire's case in court.

"A so-called right-to-work law allows workers to not pay membership dues but still receive all the services, benefits, and representation that unions provide — for free," said Frank Manzo IV of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. "Yesterday, voters in Missouri — a state which President Trump won by 19 points — overwhelmingly rejected this policy, pushed by billionaires and corporate interests to devastate unions."

Manzo pointed to an ILEPI study showing that neighboring states with right-to-work laws have seen middle-class wages drop by 3 percent as union membership dwindled.

"Voters in Missouri rejected a policy that would have eroded the state’s middle class and caused additional inequality," Manzo said. "The results should make elected officials in Illinois and across the Midwest think twice about passing legislation that weakens the bargaining power of working-class families."

An ILEPI study published earlier this year predicted that government workers such as teachers, firefighters, and police officers would see their salaries reduced by 3.6 percent after the Janus ruling, with an ultimate impact of shrinking the U.S. economy by $33 billion.

Unions have tried to turn the adverse Janus ruling into a rallying cry, and they touted their victory Tuesday in Missouri as a turning point.

Rauner, of course, initiated the Janus suit, but a court ruling forced him to turn it over to a proxy, Mark Janus, who has since left his state job to accept a position with the Illinois Policy Institute.