JEFFERSON CITY — Proposition A, the right-to-work referendum, has been a polarizing topic this election season. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft also believes it will be a significant vote-driver.
Ashcroft predicts a statewide vote turnout of 30 percent Tuesday, five percent higher than the turnout for the last midterm primary election four years ago. Ashcroft attributes the increase in part to an open U.S. seat on the ballot combined with the highly contested issue of right-to-work.
Lawmakers last year approved Senate Bill 19. The document says unions cannot force workers to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment in shops with union contracts. Former governor Jay Nixon had previously vetoed so-called right-to-work legislation, governor Eric Greitens was eager to sign it into law.
But that was hardly the end of it.
The unions demonstrated why it is called organized labor. Unions gathered more than 310,000 signatures, which halted Greitens' implementation of Senate Bill 19. The action created Proposition A, winning the issue a spot on the August 7 ballot.
Calling themselves We Are Missouri, the political organization working to defeat Proposition A has more than $15 million to convince voters it's a bad idea.
"This really does come down to one big different of opinion here: does lowering wages and benefits help the Missouri economy?" Jack Cardetti, We Are Missouri spokesman said.
The other side says Missouri loses new employers to the surround states, so right-to-work is essential to the economy.
"Workers get the choice of whether or not they want to join a union and pay dues," Matthew Panik from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, "and businesses are trending upward in a number of economic factors."
The Supreme Court has already said a worker cannot be compelled to pay union dues.
"They just have to pay an agency fee, which is the cost to represent them in that bargaining," Cardetti said.
The Prop A fight is over, the fees unions charge non-members to cover the non-political costs of collective bargaining.
"But in a right-to-work state, you can opt out completely," Panik said.
Economists say the impact of right-to-work can affect wages.
A University of Illinois analysis in April 2017 compared Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin-- three of the most recent right-to-work states-- to Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio, where full collective bargaining rules still apply. Researchers did find a difference of eight percent in average wages since 2012.
When analysts crunched that number for factors other than labor costs, including demographics, education, cost of living, and other regional trends, researchers found right-to-work laws were responsible for a 2.6 difference in wages. The study also found the unemployment rates in the right-to-work states were lower, but only by 2/10 of one percent.
Other studies on the impact of right-to-work expose similar correlations, but economists tend to stop short of assigning cause and effect to the numbers.
The decision could come down to what seems more fair, a demand that people who benefit from union negotiations share in their costs or the idea that no worker should be compelled to support something they may not believe in.
The Missouri vote has a lot of eyes on it, even nationally. It comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling weakening public-sector unions. In June, the court said an Illinois state government worker could not be forced to pay collective bargaining fees to a union, essentially establishing a right-to-work policy for public-sector workers in all states.
The August 7 vote could be a watershed moment for unions fighting an erosion of strength in states with historically deep-rooted support.
If Proposition A passes, Missouri will become the 28th right-to-work state. The Show Me State would join seven of its eight neighboring states with the policy.
A reminder: A 'yes' vote is a vote for right-to-work status in Missouri. A 'no' vote is a vote to leave collective-bargaining rules as they are.