What does right-to-work mean for Missouri workers?

ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed right-to-work legislation into law Monday, making Missouri the 28th state to pass this sort of law. It doesn’t go into effect until August 28 and labor groups are still trying to get it on the ballot in 2018 so voters have an opportunity to decide the matter.

There have been claims from both business and labor groups about what a right-to-work law will do, leaving people to wonder which set of statistics are reality.

Pat White, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, said the law will have wide ranging effects.

“This is not only going to affect union folks, this is going to affect everybody,” White said. “The facts are that yearly wages go down in right-to-work states.”

Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has a different take.

“It’s by no means the silver bullet, but it will help attract business and investment to the state of Missouri,” he said.

Mehan also pointed out that states like Indiana have seen new factories and businesses open in their states over the past few years.

“We’ve seen the numbers, and according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, states that are right to work over the last decades have seen more job growth, more state GDP growth, and that’s what we’re about,” Mehan said.

White said it’s more important to look back further in history to see the long-term implications of these policies.

“I think what people look at is recent history with Indiana and Wisconsin,” he said. “But we try and get people to look a little further back, like Oklahoma and Arkansas and Alabama and Mississippi, where some of those states are at the bottom of the rung when it comes to education spending, healthcare, and when it comes to poverty.”

The bottom line, according to some independent economic policy experts, is both sides can find numbers that bolster their argument for or against right-to-work laws.

Dr. Jake Rosenfeld, an associate professor at Washington University, is one of the foremost experts on the labor movement in the U.S. He said right-to-work laws get more credit than they deserve, both good and bad, because there is not that much of an impact either way.

“This is an issue that generates a whole lot of attention, a lot of symbolic energy behind it on both sides,” Rosenfeld said. “In the end, (this) is not a consequential piece of legislation.”

The professor said states which typically sign these types of laws into place are already seeing shrinking union participation already. The states themselves are typically having economic troubles leading up to the law, as well.

“It’s an issue that the research shows doesn’t have dramatic results one way or the other,” Rosenfeld said. “(Because) this is a type of legislation that comes into states that are already experiencing dramatically weakened union movements.”

Rosenfeld did point out that labor unions can survive—even thrive—if they don’t concede defeat. He pointed to states like Nevada, which has a growing labor union movement despite right-to-work laws being on the books.

“It’s an issue that contains so much political heat on both sides,” he said. “And there’s just no evidence pointing to either outcome.”

Labor leaders said part of their concern is laws like this are unfair because the unions are still required to legally protect workers in a business, even if people decide not to join that union. That is just one of the many reasons that labor groups in Missouri say they will continue their push to get the issue on the 2018 ballot.