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Right-to-work bill stalls; proponents hope for vote

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A bill that came before the Missouri Senate but stalled earlier this month would have given union shop employees the ability to opt out of union membership.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, would make Missouri a right-to-work state, putting an end to employment contracts that mandate payment of union dues for employees of unionized companies.

The bill stalled in the Senate after being debated for about half a day and is now listed on the Senate’s informal calendar of bills awaiting perfection.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to have a vote on it,” said Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, House Speaker Pro Tem. “It’s just deadlocked right now.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missouri has followed the national trend in a decline in union workers. The number of union workers in Missouri dropped to 9.9 percent in 2010, down from 15.5 percent in 1989 and up slightly from 9.4 percent of reported union workers in 2009 at the height of the recession.

Schoeller said his support of right-to-work legislation comes down to allowing employees to decide if they want to support a union.

“I think it’s important for anyone to have the right to choose if they have someone represent them,” he said. “If a union doesn’t have guaranteed members, I think unions would work harder for employees.”

Proponents of SB 1 are concerned that Missouri is at a competitive disadvantage without right-to-work status. Schoeller believes many companies that consider moving to Missouri don’t do so because it isn’t a right-to-work state, but he acknowledges a lack of supporting statistical data.

“Many companies don’t contact the state in the first place because we are not right-to-work,” he said.

John Creller, field representative for the Springfield chapter of Bricklayer and Allied Craftsmen Local 15 Missouri/Kansas, said right-to-work states weaken unions by curtailing their bargaining power.

“This is just an all-out attack on labor unions,” Creller said. “If we don’t have the opportunity to bargain with our employers, we earn less and when people earn less, we pay less taxes, and that will give Missouri a smaller operating budget.”

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said SB 1 should be called the “right-to-work for less bill.”

“The reality is that there is proof that employees in right-to-work states earn less,” she said.

Lampe pointed to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which shows that workers in right-to-work border states Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, earn less than Missouri’s median wage of $14.70 an hour. Median wages are $14.64 in Kansas, $13.53 in Oklahoma and $13.18 in Arkansas, according to BLS data. Nationwide, BLS statistics show that union workers earn an average weekly wage of $917, while nonunion workers’ earnings average $717 a week.

Lampe said businesses look at more than a state’s right-to-work status before they move to Missouri.

“They look at quality of life issues such as education, and we should be investing more in those types of issues,” Lampe said.

John Gentry, president of Positronic Industries, a nonunion manufacturer in Springfield that produces items for the global market, mirrors the position taken by the Missouri Association of Manufacturers which supports the right-to-work initiative.  

“When I think about Springfield, I think about what will make Springfield more competitive, what will make Missouri more competitive and what will make the U.S. more competitive in a world economy,” said Gentry, who is MAM’s treasurer. “If Missouri becomes a right-to-work state, I think it will provide a competitive edge we didn’t have.”[[In-content Ad]]

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