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Right-to-work vote in Missouri stirs up debate on both sides of issue

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Last year Missouri lawmakers approved, and former Governor Eric Greitens signed, a right-to-work law that made Missouri the 28th right-to-work state. But labor unions opposed to the new law collected enough signatures to put a repeal measure in front of voters this August.

FOX4's John Pepitone found that Proposition A is stirring up arguments from those on both sides of the issue.

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Virginia Vann leaves her apartment before the sun comes up to get to her job cleaning office buildings for five hours each morning. She then heads out again after 5 p.m. to work another four hours at a different building as a custodian. Between them, she says the two part-time jobs enable her to pay her bills.

"I have a car payment. I have rent. I have to buy food. There are just so many things. Clothes. All kinds of things. Laundry. Money, money. Gas. You have to have that money, that income coming in," Vann said.

She credits her union, Service Employees International, for negotiating her pay at $9.45 an hour. She`s also eligible for health coverage, working only part-time for two different employers.

The 61-year-old grandmother fears if Missouri becomes a right-to-work state, unskilled workers like her would earn no more than the minimum wage of $7.85 an hour, with no benefits.

"It`s important that everybody have a fair wage, a livable wage, very important. To me it is. I couldn`t live. I don`t know where I would be at. You don`t want to be homeless," Vann said.

Those in favor of proposition a argue that the law has helped create jobs and attract new business in the 27 other states that have passed right-to-work legislation.

If the right-to-work law remains in place, it would prohibit labor unions from requiring the workers they represent to pay dues or service fees, while still receiving the union pay scale and benefits negotiated through collective bargaining.

"It would allow these people to get those same services while paying nothing, while their fellow workers are footing the bill. That is manifestly unfair, it`s anti-democratic and it`s very divisive, which is the point. They want to weaken unions," Judy Ancel said.

But Patrick Ishmael of the Show Me Institute says if the repeal is successful, Missouri may be left behind.

"Missouri is the only state in our region that isn`t right-to-work, with the exception of Illinois. Every other state that borders us is a right-to-work state. From a competitive perspective, if you are looking to move into the Midwest and you`re looking for a right-to-work state, you have lots of options. That works to the state`s disadvantage," Ishmael said.

Representative Holly Rehder, a Republican from Sikeston, says a proposed new steel mill for Missouri`s boot-heel may choose another state if right-to-work is defeated by voters. Kansas has been a right-to-work state since 1958.

Vann sees the referendum as an effort by businesses and wealthy contributors funding the campaign to divide workers. She doesn`t like the idea of another custodian working by her side, earning the same union pay scale, but not paying for the representation.

"I just think they should be able to fight along with us, to help us gain what we need. Higher wages, better health care. More, making jobs safer. I just want them to help us," she said.

Missouri voters will go to the polls on August 7th to decide.