Hardworking Missourians stood up to corporate cronies in August when they overwhelmingly rejected their efforts to enact a right-to-work (RTW) law in the state that would have curbed the ability of workers to join together to negotiate for higher pay, benefits and safety on the job.
By a more than two-to-one margin, voters overruled the state Legislature and former governor that enacted RTW in 2017 after years of failed attempts to do so. The Teamsters and other unions came together in the weeks following the legislation’s passage to get voters to place a measure on the state ballot that would overturn the law.
Despite supporters’ efforts to sabotage the anti-RTW referendum vote by having it moved to the August primary ballot from the November general election ballot earlier this year, workers made it clear they didn’t believe the lies told by big business interests that wanted to halt collective bargaining in the “Show Me” state.
“Voters across Missouri let anti-worker lawmakers know that they won’t be pushed aside so these elected officials can continue to line their pockets with corporate campaign dollars,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “Working Missourians understand the power of unions and how they help bring a better quality of life to union and nonunion workers alike.”
Destructive RTW laws are designed to drive down wages and weaken workers’ bargaining rights. States that have already mandated right to work have lower wages, higher unemployment and poverty levels, and fewer protections for workers than free-bargaining states.
Missouri Teamsters, under the direction of Jim Kabell, President of the Missouri-Kansas-Nebraska Conference of Teamsters and Joint Council 56 in Kansas City, Mo., were involved from the get-go to make sure RTW never took effect in the state. He said voters got wise to the efforts of RTW supporters.
“For us to get 68 percent of the vote in Missouri is a pretty phenomenal number,” Kabell said. “People weren’t fooled by right to work. The truth drove this campaign. People understood the truth and voted. They got the impact of this on their communities.”
Labor Day Parade
A month after the vote against right to work, Teamsters gathered at the St. Louis Labor Day parade admitted this year’s celebration was a little more joyous than most due to winning effort.
“It does feel different,” said Rodney Kalina, a Local 688 member and 25-year Teamster who is a driver and shop steward for Pepsi Beverages. “In years past, different parts of labor weren’t unified. This year, it just feels like we’re more unified. If it took this fight to get there, I hope it stays in that direction.”
Maybe just as importantly, the victory set a blueprint for how the Teamsters and the labor movement should come together and flex their muscle in advance of the November election, said Marvin Kropp, President of Joint Council 13 in St. Louis.
“It showed we could defeat some of the people who are not friends of labor,” Kropp said. “But we have to do it the same way we defeated Prop A. We have to get unified, we have to get together. And we have to get the boots on the ground.”
As voters showed during the August vote, there was no good reason for them to support such an anti-worker measure. The median salary of a union worker is more than $11,000 a year higher than the median nonunion worker. Nine of the 10 highest poverty states are RTW. And those living in RTW states are also less likely to receive employer-based health insurance or pensions.
More broadly, taking away the rights of hardworking Americans to collectively bargain is not the answer. Working people want the freedom to join together and negotiate for a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. And the more money workers have to spend, the more products they buy, creating more jobs and better wages for all workers.
Big business says RTW is good for the American economy. But many of these same companies have offshored jobs and helped rig the rules, pushing U.S. wages down and placing the health and safety of workers at risk. Corporations are just looking to pocket higher profits.
For too many, the American dream is slipping away. But more than 937,000 Missourians put their foot down and said “Enough!” when they voted to throw out this RTW law. They knew it was a ruse.