ECLECTIC RANT: Labor Movement Victory in Missouri

Ralph E. Stone
Friday August 10, 2018 - 02:24:00 PM

in a referendum on August 7, 2018, Missouri voters overturned a right-to-work law passed in 2017, giving organized labor a substantial victory. The vote was 64% to 36%. This vote reverses a trend of states passing right-to-work (RTW) laws. Presently, 27 states have such laws.

RTW laws are permitted by Section 14(b) of theTaft-Hartley amendments to the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C §141, which permits a state to pass laws that prohibit unions from requiring a worker to pay dues, even when the worker is covered by a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement.

Thus, workers in RTW states have less incentive to join a union and to pay union dues and, as a result, unions have less clout vis-à-vis corporations. In other words, RTW laws prohibit union contracts at private sector workplaces from requiring employees to pay any dues or other fees to the union. In states without such laws, workers at unionized workplaces generally have to pay such dues or fees. 

RTW laws tend to diminish union power and influence. Labor leaders say that allowing workers to opt out of paying any money to the union that represents them weakens unions’ finances, bargaining clout, and political power. 

In the U.S., the top one-tenth of 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. One of the contributing causes of wealth inequality is the labor movement’s diminished economic and political clout, caused at least in part by states enacting RTW laws. 

RTW laws are also a potent political symbol, causing serious adverse financial consequences for unions. The Democratic Party receives significant support from organized labor, who supply a great deal of the money, grass roots political organization, and voting base in support of the party. Thus, RTW laws are not only an assault on unions, but also on the Democratic Party, who rely on labor for support. 

Thanks to collective bargaining, union members have higher wages and better benefits. In addition, union membership actually raises living and working standards for all working men and women, union and non-union. When union membership rates are high, so is the share of income that goes to the middle class. When those rates fall, income inequality grows and the middle class shrinks. 

Corporations did not all of a sudden give workers two days off each week, which we now call weekends, or paid vacations and sick leave, or rights at the workplace, or pensions, or overtime pay. Virtually all the benefits we have at work, whether in the public or private sector, are because unions fought hard and long against big business who did everything they could to prevent giving us these rights. 

However, labor membership is shrinking. In 2017, union membership was 10.7% of the workforce down from about one-third in1945. Yet, in 2017, union workers reported higher median weekly earnings ($1,041) than workers not covered by unions ($829). 

As of last year, 61% of Americans had a favorable opinion of labor unions, up from an all-time low of 48% in 2009. 

Why do we need unions anyway? Because they are essential for America. Unions are the only large-scale movement left in America that serve as a countervailing balance against corporate power, acting in the economic interest of the middle class. But the decline of unions over the past few decades has left corporations and the rich with essentially no powerful opposition. You may take issue with a particular union’s position on an issue, but remember they are the only real organized check on the power of the business community in this country. 

RTW laws are anti-union and contribute to a shrinking middle class and wealth inequality. Hopefully, other states with RTW laws will follow Missouri’s example.