A lake-area representative is one of a contingent of Republicans co-sponsoring a "right-to-work" (RTW) package in the upcoming 2nd Regular Session of the 97th Missouri General Assembly.

A lake-area representative is one of a contingent of Republicans co-sponsoring a "right-to-work" (RTW) package in the upcoming 2nd Regular Session of the 97th Missouri General Assembly.

State Rep. David Wood (Versailles) is one of nearly 20 co-sponsors for House Bills 1093, 1094 and 1095 as well as House Joint Resolutions (HJR) 43 and 44 — all pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session by State Rep. Bill Lant (Pineville).

The proposed "Freedom to Work Act" of HB 1094 and 1095 would prohibit labor organizations of private employees from requiring membership in the union as a condition of employment. HB 1093 does the same thing for public labor organizations - excluding first responders — requiring those unions to obtain written authorization to withhold earnings or obtain dues for the labor organization.

HJR No. 43 and No. 44 proposes putting two state constitutional amendments related to the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot. The joint resolutions would put the amendment of Article 1 and Article 13 of the Missouri Constitution before voters with language similar to that of the house bills.

HJR 43 relates to public labor organizations (excluding first responders) obtaining dues only with consent and without membership and fees being a condition of employment. HJR 44 would prohibit private employers from requiring persons to become members of or pay dues to a private labor organization as a condition of employment.

If passed, this legislation would make Missouri the 25th RTW state, evenly splitting the country on the issue.

The traditionally pro-union state of Michigan was the last state to pass RTW legislation, going into effect in March 2013. In 2012, it was a hard fought issue there between labor organizations and pro-business groups.

Many Republicans, including Wood, say that RTW doesn't take power from unions but gives businesses and employees the choice of being union or non-union.

"Unions will still be strong, but it also puts some accountability on unions. Right now they can charge whatever they want, but if it's optional, they'll have to provide a product worth paying for," Wood says.

Wood also believes the legislation will promote economic growth in Missouri.

In testimony on the issue, Wood says organizations promoting business around the state, such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, claim one of the first things a company asks when considering location is whether the state is RTW.

"When unions started out, they came to the companies and offered to provide quality employees for quality working conditions. Unions took care of the type of employee and the company took care of conditions. That was a great relationship that has morphed into protecting all workers whether they're good or bad and negotiating more [money] than they should get in some cases," Wood says.

The effect on the rural central part of the state, of which Wood is a representative, is to drive up the prevailing wage, he says, often making capital improvements to infrastructure cost-prohibitive for schools and other political subdivisions.

"It increases the cost to the point, they can't do near as much. And that's my taxpayer money. Wages are artificially high due to St. Louis and Kansas City unions, and I'm paying the price for that," he says.

Unions have become something much larger than what was really intended, says Wood, and RTW will help balance out labor organization's power and open up some union jobs to more competition.

"They'll have to offer higher quality work for their wage or for a lower wage. I don't have a problem with that. It should be market driven," he says. "Free market is always a good thing."

While that may drive down wages slightly in union jobs, it allows businesses to make more for their investment, says Wood, making the state more attractive to new companies and making it less expensive to expand and create more jobs.

Unions oppose RTW on the grounds that it weakens their organizations by allowing free riders on the system, resulting in lower wages and benefits which in turn undermines consumer spending and economic growth of service.

The Economic Policy Institute, heavily funded by organized labor, has estimated varying differences in average wages between RTW and non-RTW.

A briefing paper issued by the EPI Feb. 17, 2011, which controlled for employee-related factors such as gender, age, education and industry, found wages in RTW states are 3.2 percent lower than in non-RTW states. Using the average wage of $22.11 in non-RTW states as the base, the study stated that the average full-time full-year worker in an RTW state makes about $1,500 less per year than a similar worker in a non-RTW state.

The study also stated that the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance is 2.6 percentage points lower in RTW states than in non-RTW states along with a 4.8 percent estimated deterioration in pension coverage.

A Sept. 15, 2011 briefing from the EPI further contended that the economy will be undermined by these lower income as the economy is becoming more and more driven by consumer spending. It cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009, showing that the top 10 occupations projected to add the greatest number of jobs in the next 10 years would all be related to government revenue and consumer spending. These include jobs in food service, retail sales, health care and education rather than manufacturing.

In other words, with less money to spend, workers will spend less, causing the economy to falter further.

However, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy - a pro-RTW organization - workers in RTW states have 4.1 percent higher per capita personal incomes than workers in non-RTW states when the wages are adjusted for cost of living, factoring in cost of food staples and other items.

The Mackinac Center also cites Bureau of Labor Statistics to show that RTW states have loer unemployment with the average rate of unemployment being one percentage point less in RTW states than in non-RTW states. In December 2012, unemployment in RTW states was 7.1 percent while non-RTW states were at 8.1 percent. Nationally, the average was 7.8 percent. Also, between 2001 and 2011, RTW states added 1.7 million jobs while forced unionism states lost 2.1 million jobs.

The Mackinac Center also cites U.S. Census data showing that RTW states offer more opportunities for young workers with RTW states seeing an increase of 11.3 percent from 2001-2011 in the number of residents between 25 and 34 while non-RTW states in the same time period saw an increase in this age group of just 0.6 percent.

Other studies by more independent groups indicate that it is difficult to pinpoint whether RTW legislation is good or bad for jobs and whether the policy makes that much difference in a company's decision on location.

In "The Location of Industry: Does States' Policies Matter?", Thomas J. Holmes found that manufacturing industry growth is significantly higher in RTW states, but that it may be states' entire pro-business package, such as low taxes and less regulation, that matters more than just RTW legislation alone.

Other studies and opinions indicate the effect of RTW widely varies with some RTW states seeing growth and others not, or that the effect on the nation's growth as a whole is a wash due to companies locating in pro-business states because they're looking to open somewhere in the U.S. and the option is available.

A Cornell University study by Henry S. Farber also found that the effect of RTW on wages was mixed. While non-union workers in Idaho saw statistically significant lower wages in comparison to workers in other states after its RTW law passed in 1985, there was no statistical difference in wages for non-union workers in Oklahoma following the passage of its RTW law in 2001.