28th Right To Work State

February 22, 2017

Employee Benefit & HR News

On February 6, 2017, Missouri’s newly appointed Governor signed legislation making Missouri the 28th right-to-work (RTW) state. Gov. Greitens’ signature was the final step to push a very long battle driven by Missouri Republicans and state business groups. But what does it mean to be a RTW state?

RTW states allow non-union workers to work in union shops. Most states with RTW laws have language very similar to the following:

“No person shall be denied employment on account of membership or non-membership in a labor union.”

This language technically prohibits union security agreements that require union workers to pay fees (union dues) to get or keep a job in a union shop. For example, if you wanted to work as a roofer but didn’t want to join the roofers’ union, under prior Missouri law you either wouldn’t be hired or would be terminated if you already started working. In a RTW state, like Missouri, the individual can continue working without joining the union or pay the union dues required by a union security agreement. It should be noted that RTW does not apply to federal workers, workers on military bases and workers under the National Railway Labor Act, such as airline and railroad workers. Those institutions would still be allowed to force unionization and the unions can still require the payment of dues.

Obviously, this is a continuous topic for the unions, which oppose RTW legislation. To compound the situation for unions, RTW laws can extend the same compensation and benefit package (and even offer union representation) to workers who elect not to join the union. Since the non-union workers do not pay fees it could reduce the union’s funds which are used to organize and advocate for union workers.

The RTW bill does not allow employers to interfere with the employee’s right to concerted activity or to organize. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) governs federal labor laws and bans employers from obstructing employees to join or form a union.

Advocates of RTW legislation believe mandating open shops (allowing non-union workers in union shops) is more attractive for new businesses and job growth within the state. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that RTW states saw 8.6 percent job growth between 2005 and 2015, while employment in non-right-to-work states grew only 5 percent.

How will RTW impact Missouri?

Looking forward, Gov. Greitens’ signature does not automatically make RTW the law. The RTW legislation is scheduled to go in to effect August 28, 2017. With that said, Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis and Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel have filed a petition for referendum with the Secretary of State’s Office. For the referendum to be approved by the General Assembly, the petition will need signatures from 5 percent of the voters from two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts, about 90,000 signatures, before August 28th. If they succeed, right-to work will be place on a ballot for a statewide election in 2018.

If, and when, the RTW law would take effect there will not be much immediate change. Open shops will not see any change; they would remain status quo. Current union shops are covered by the grandfather clause in the RTW bill which states that RTW will not affect any bargaining agreement implemented prior to enactment of the law. As those agreements expire, however, the RTW law will prevent any future agreements to require the payments of union dues.

2017 is shaping up to be a formidable political year.

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