‘Right to work’ firestorm smolders in Missouri — Here’s what you need to know

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's caused a firestorm in other states, and now Missouri is bracing for the impact of the "right-to-work" debate.

In the August primary election, voters will decide whether or not Missouri becomes the 28th right-to-work state, which would give employees the chance to decide whether or not they want to belong to a union.

Ryan Johnson who represents United For Missouri believes workers should be able to decide for themselves how to best spend their money. He said right to work was born to prevent people from being excluded from employment if they do not want to join a union.

"So when you think about right to work in Missouri, you should think about autoworkers north of the river," Johnson said.

As it is now, to be hired at the Claycomo Ford Plant, you must join the union, which requires the employee to pay dues. Folks who do not want to do that are not hired.

Erin Schrimpf, who works for We Are Missouri, is fighting the passage of right to work. She said right to work is a ploy to reduce membership and weaken unions.

"I think right to work is about greedy CEOs and out of town corporations trying to take advantage of the average worker," she said.

Schrimpf said she has seen disastrous consequences in other states.

Her organization has compiled a list of how they say right to work has hurt other states, including lower wages, less employer provided insurance, decreases in education and childcare spending and an increase in workplace deaths.

"Every social and economic indicator that you would look at for a healthy middle class, wages, health care coverage, general quality of life is lower in right to work states," Schrimpf said.

Johnson doesn't know if the data  actually supports Schrimpf’s argument.

"Unions are doing quite well in Indiana,” Johnson said. “It changes their model a little bit when their membership is no longer forced. They have to compete for membership. So I think their customer service probably becomes a little bit better. Member services probably becomes a little bit better, and I think that is a good thing for unions. I think is a good thing for workers."

And a good thing for Missouri’s economy, according to Johnson. He said sight selectors coming to Missouri for business expansion consider the right-to-work law a top priority.

“When you look at that and then Missouri doesn't get a second look for someone to come in and open up shop and do business and create hundreds of thousands of jobs simply because we don’t have this protection for employees, Missouri is getting left behind at that point,"  he said.

Right to work in Missouri only applies to private unions, not public ones such as teachers’ unions and law enforcement unions.

The right-to-work vote is expected to come down to a slim margin. An Emerson College Poll released Thursday has the right to work issue tied at 40 percent. 20 percent of those polled are still undecided.

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