Using an abandoned warehouse in Springfield as his backdrop, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation Monday making Missouri the nation’s 28th right-to-work state.
The law, which bars employers and unions from requiring workers to pay union dues or fees, completes decades of work by the GOP and business groups. Lawmakers passed a right-to-work bill in 2015 but it was vetoed by then Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
“Today, Missouri joins 27 other states who put power back into the hands of workers and taken a bold step to create more jobs. That’s what we’ve done today,” Greitens told the crowd of about 75, including several lawmakers who had championed the bill.
The speech and subsequent bill-signing on S. Ingram Mill Ave took place in a now closed warehouse with unused equipment, which one person yelled out as “staged.”
Greiten said, “This scene is far too familiar in too many Missouri towns. In too many Missouri towns workers have felt like they’ve been abandoned. But no more.”
The space used to house Amelex, a wholesale distributor to circuit board manufacturers, which closed five months ago. Its owner told the Springfield News-Leader he believes neither unions nor a lack of right-to-work legislation affected his company’s closing, but that he is a strong supporter of the law.
Proponents of right-to-work say it will bolster Missouri’s economy by making it more business-friendly. Opponents claim such laws lead to lower wages. About 10 protestors chanting “Right to Work – Wrong for Us” were escorted out of the bill signing event.
The governor, who had expressed support for the measure during his campaign last year, said the bill is “simple and straightforward.”
“It simply says that every worker should have the choice about whether or not they want to join a union. They should have the choice. And if they choose not to join they can’t be forced out of their job. That’s what right-to-work says.”
He added, “Right-to-work doesn’t eliminate unions. What it does in fact is that it makes unions more responsive and more accountable to their members.”
Disagreement about the policy’s potential effects on Missouri’s economy has been widespread.
In a statement, Cheryl Clay, president of the Springfield NAACP branch, questioned why the governor chose the southwest Missouri city to sign the bill into law.
“Springfield has the most rapidly growing poverty in the state and low unemployment. Even when adjusted for our low cost of living, our wages are too low. Right to work has been proven, after an initial bump in jobs, to actually lower wages and make work environments less safe,” said Clay.
Lexi Amos, one of about 20 protestors outside the bill-signing venue, said the law “will drive down wages even more.”
“As well as it’s going to be put undue stress on the unions. They’re gonna have to still represent with less funding,” she said.
But Greitens on Monday touted positive numbers from states that have barred employers and unions from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment.
“From 1995 to 2015 the top five fastest states for job growth in the country were right-to-work states. And people in right-to-work states today earn more that people in Missouri,” the governor stated.
Reaction from labor unions and business groups quickly poured in following the signing in Springfield.
SEIU Healthcare is a union of healthcare, child care, home care and nursing home workers operating in four Midwestern states. Caprice Nevils, SEIU Healthcare Missouri executive board member and Care Partner at St. Louis University Hospital, called it a sad day for the state’s working families.
“Governor Greitens claims to be committed to growing our state’s economy, but this law will drive down wages and benefits even further in Missouri. It's wrong. We should be working together to build an economy that works for everyone, but this only helps a small group of special interest donors,” said Nevils.
In a video statement posted by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, president and CEO Dan Mehan called the action a historic accomplishment, noting that non right-to-work status has hurt the state’s job growth opportunities.
“In time, I think even the people of who oppose this change will come to appreciate how it helped provide better jobs for Missouri workers. Our new status as a right-to-work state puts Missouri on a course for greater economic success.”
The new law takes effect August 28th.