I wrote this piece for the Heartland Institute.
In mid-February, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill allowing workers to opt out of mandatory union membership as a condition of working in a particular place of business.
The bill was approved by 92 out of 158 representatives, receiving the most support than any previous right-to-work (RTW) bill in the Missouri legislature.
Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics James Sherk says right-to-work laws defend workers’ rights.
“Workplace freedom laws, or right-to-work laws, prevent unions from getting workers fired for not paying union dues,” said James Sherk, a senior economist at the Heritage Foundation. “Without them, unions negotiate contracts that make paying dues a condition of employment.”
“Right-to-work benefits workers in two ways. First, it protects their freedom. It gives them the choice about whether or not to financially support a union rather than enabling the union to force them to pay dues,” he said. “Unions have become highly ideological organizations and workers should have a choice about whether or not to fund them.”
Earning Their Keep
Sherk says right-to-work laws also helps workers who choose to stay in the union.
“Right-to-work benefits union members, by forcing their union to earn its keep. Without right-to-work, unions can take their members for granted. The workers have no choice but to pay union dues or get fired,” he said. “Research finds unions pay their top officers $20,000 more a year, in states without RTW laws. In RTW states, unions have to earn their members’ voluntary support. This means better services, a closer focus on their members’ interests, and lower costs.”
Surrounded by Right-to-Work States
State Rep. Eric Burlinson (R-Springfield), the sponsor of the bill, says that Missouri is the only state in the region without these protections.
“We have six states around Missouri that provide workers their freedom: Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee,” Burlinson said. “When you look at private-sector payrolls according to the U.S. Department of Labor, from 2002 to 2012, the states surrounding us saw an increase of 3 percent, while Missouri saw a decline of 1.6 percent during that 10 year period.”
“From 2002-2012, private-sector payrolls in those 33 Missouri counties fell by 2.3 percent,” Burlinson said, “but in right-to-work countries on the other side of the border payrolls increased by 5.6 percent.”
Right-to-work is primarily about giving people more choices, Sherk says.
“No one should be forced to join or financially support an outside organization as a condition of employment. Workers have every right to join a union and pay dues, but that should be their choice,” he said.a