Six years ago, I was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. I had read many books and documents to prepare myself for my new job, but I had not read much on any current labor issues. I was raised in an ardent union family. Both of my grandfathers, an uncle and aunt were union members. This is kind of odd for a mid-Missouri person, we don’t have many union members in this area, but I owe the life I was able to live to Unions. During that first election, I was endorsed by the AFL-CIO. All I knew about Right-to-Work was what I had been told “It was a Rip-off”.
As I prepared to debate my fellow Republicans and explain the evil that is Right-to-Work, I decided it was time to educate myself about the issue. So, I sat down and thought alright, lets attack this straight on. Right-to-Work destroys middle-class jobs, lowers wages and destroys unions. I decided to get the data together and turn it into a plain and logical argument against Right-to-Work. But a funny thing happened while I was looking this data up, it didn’t fit my arguments. I quickly discovered that the only states gaining union jobs or reducing their job decline were the ones that had passed Right-to-Work legislation. Non-Right-to-Work states like Missouri are losing union jobs.
Missouri had gone from recently having a quarter of our work force as union, to now Missouri has just a little more than 8 percent union labor, and it is falling.
Missouri is not getting the new large industrial companies like the Right-to-Work states and it is killing us economically. We are 47th in the nation in economic growth. Even the one thing we can brag about, the most new small businesses is because we have to find a way to get jobs for our citizens. These companies are small by definition and generally the jobs are lower paying non-union jobs. The failure rate of these companies is high. We only received this honor out of desperation.
Missouri needs industry. I have been to several meetings with Site Locators for large industrial companies. These are the professionals that assist companies with finding a location that meets their requirements. I have been told that it does not matter that much that Missouri has great employees and low cost of living. I have been informed several times that between 60 to 80 percent of all large labor intensive industrial companies do not want to consider a state that does not have Right-to-Work. Half of the remaining companies that will not completely disregard Missouri, consider having Right-to- Work very important. Missouri misses out on being seriously considered by 80 to 90 percent of these companies. Missouri has other things it needs to work on to make it a better place to do business in, but for these types of industry, passing Right-to-Work is imperative.
The next argument that Right-to-Work States pay workers less should be easy to show. The short answer was, they do. Unfortunately for my argument, when I dug down in the numbers more and looked at other data, I found out that Right-to-Work is beneficial for all workers. The states that the opponents of Right-to-Work point to, have had historically lower wages than other states, but that is not the end of the story. In these states, Right-to-Work has added jobs, both union and non-union. These workers may not get incredible sums of money, but going from making nothing to making a good union wage with benefits is an increase in wages not a lessening. We are passed the point when a valid argument can be made between a $40/hr job and $20/hr job. People just want jobs.
Next argument, Right-to-Work destroys unions. I had already discovered that Right-to-Work adds jobs or at least lessens the decline in the loss of jobs and that pay was truly not decreased. So this argument is already weak, but is it a war on existing union jobs? Will all the existing union jobs go away if people are not forced to join? The answer from other states is no. Successful companies did not get that way by making poor business decisions. Other states have seen these large companies become a union shop, many times at the insistence of the companies themselves. The companies realized they get a professional, well trained work force with union labor. Adding members to a union during this era of decline will help the existing members maintain their retirement plans. This alone would make me want to get it, because many of these retirement plans are in financial trouble. No existing union members lose their jobs because of Right to Work, adds more members and helps stabilize their benefits.
Along this same argument, the unions become useless, because the unions must share their benefits with non-members. This is false, many public unions in Missouri have non-members in their workforce and these people do not get the benefits from the unions. There is no part of Right-to-Work legislation that requires this. Companies cannot break labor agreements in place, it is against the law. So the old argument that says a union would have to support a nonmember is wrong.
My arguments against Right-to-Work are not doing so good, surely there are downsides to Right-to- Work for unions? There is. Unions lose some leverage with the Companies they work with. This in turn lessens the amount of power that labor executives have. These executives may not make as much money or be able to support the political candidates that they want. That is the only downside I have found. This is the same labor management that has spent millions and millions of union member dues on a completely fictitious campaign “Right-to-Work is a Rip-Off”. Forcing people that want to work to join a union even if that membership is not in their best interest is not a Rip-Off, it is the Right-to-Work for union and non-union again, thankfully.
Now you can see how I ended up becoming a supporter of Right-to-Work. Missouri and the Unions need it to compete again.
-Rep. Rocky Miller Jefferson City