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Missouri moves closer to becoming 'right-to-work' state

Posted: 11:27 AM, Dec 03, 2016
Updated: 2016-12-04 14:37:56Z
State leaders expect to once again take up the issue of whether or not to make Missouri a "right-to-work" state when they reconvene in January.
 
On Thursday, a number of proposals were put forward, including House Bill 42.
 
State Representative Holly Rehder (R - District 148) authored the bill, which aims to allow employees to have the option to join a union and pay dues.
 
Twenty-six states, including Kansas, have similar measures in place.
 
Supporters of the "right-to-work" bill say it could allow more businesses and jobs to come to Missouri, since they would have less union obstacles to deal with.
 
"For the union and union members, I think it's better they have the option to participate in the union or not," explained Show-Me Institute Director of Government Accountability Patrick Ishmael. "When you have a flexible labor market, employers can hire the folks they want to hire and employees can go to the companies they want to go to."
 
However, the issue has led to controversy in the state.
 
Union leaders and representatives say becoming a "right-to-work" state could lead to a slow death for labor groups by taking away required fees.
 
"To provide service, we collect dues," explained Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO President "Duke" Dujakovich. "It's a lot like a city that provides services and collects taxes. If all of a sudden taxes were voluntary, then you could see services suffer."
 
Right now, only around 10% of Missouri's workers are in unions.
 
Despite the low number, Dujakovich said unions continue to play a crucial role.
 
"A lot of times, we have members who don't know everything the union does until they fall on hard times," he said. "They don't realize we're negotiating contracts and filing grievances on their behalf. We're representing members who have been wrongfully terminated."
 
If the "right-to-work" measures were to pass, Dujakovich said labor groups could face a tough future.
 
"The 'right-to-work' is one of several proposals and tactics to try and eliminate the unions," he said. "They try to starve them to death by taking away the source of revenue to be able to do the job they need to do."
 
The 'right-to-work' plans have been met with plenty of support from Republicans.
 
Similar measures have passed in the General Assembly in years past, only to be vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon.
 
However, with Governor-elect Eric Greitens and a Republican-controlled state legislature, the measure is expected to quickly pass this year.
 
"The important thing here is that we're empowering workers to be able to take greater control over what their employment looks like and who they have to pay to," said Ishmael.
 
With the economy and jobs changing over the decades, Ishmael explained that a different approach to labor groups is needed.
 
"The environment in which unions began and the environment unions find themselves in today is a little bit different," he said. "For folks that want to join a union, they still can. The question is; should they have a choice? I think they should."
 
With the expected bill passage and support for 'right-to-work' bills in years past, Dujakovich said unions have been preparing to deal with changes.
 
If leaders pass the bill in January, he explained that unions will have to chance their methods.
 
"We're going to have to go and explain to members what their rights are and exactly the benefits the union provides," said Dujakovich. "We have got to continue to move along, move forward, and show our members that there is a value to bring in a union."
 
State leaders reconvene for the 2017 General Assembly in Jefferson City on January 4th.
 
With plenty of support expected, 'right-to-work' measures could be one of the first to be dealt with by state leaders.
 
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Tom Dempsey can be reached at  Tom.Dempsey@KSHB.com.

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