Desperate to hold onto what little power they have left in Missouri, labor unions in the state have launched an all-out PR campaign against right-to-work through cleverly named front groups. By hiding their union ties and the fact that most of their financial support is coming from outside Missouri, these groups create the impression of widespread grassroots movement against right-to-work that in reality doesn’t exist.
It’s a disingenuous tactic that didn’t prevent right-to-work from overwhelmingly passing the Missouri Legislature, but did lead to a veto of the law by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon. With a veto override vote looming, labor unions should be more upfront about the fact that the main opposition to right-to-work laws in the state are their dwindling rank and file and Big Labor outside the state.
Missouri House Bill 116, a right-to-work bill that would allow workers who don’t wish to join a union to not have to contribute dues to the union, passed in both the Missouri House and Senate in May. Governor Nixon vetoed the bill in June, calling it a threat to unionized workers, wages, and the middle class. That’s a message that has been echoed by labor unions, from in-state and out-of-state, through several mysterious groups with carefully crafted and focus-grouped names, that have campaigned vehemently against HB 116.
None of these groups seem too proud of the fact that they have been created and paid for with union money and labor.
Preserve Middle Class America calls itself a “grassroots coalition of citizens and organizations.” It opposes right-to-work laws, claiming they “make it harder for middle class families to protect their wages and job security.” In reality, the “grassroots” group is run by the Teamsters union. The mailing address listed for Preserve Middle Class America is the Teamsters Local 245 headquarters and the group has received nearly $2 million from various union and teamsters groups including the Teamsters National Headquarters in Washington, DC.
We Are Missouri is another secretive anti-right-to-work group that should instead be called We Are Big Labor. We Are Missouri’s website lists no leaders names, no union affiliation, and no mailing address, but the AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington, DC has funneled some $45,000 in payments to them for “state legislative advocacy.” Call-to-action forms on their website are also hosted by the AFL-CIO, suggesting some collaboration.
It’s not shocking that the biggest opposition against right-to-work laws in Missouri, and seemingly the only people contributing money to oppose right-to-work laws, are the labor unions themselves.
Union membership in Missouri has gone from more than 27 percent of Missouri workers in the 1960s, to just 8 percent today. The rates of unionization in Missouri over time are in line with the national trend. In the 1960s, 30 percent of all U.S. workers were unionized. Now that figure is down to only 11 percent.
Polling in Missouri has demonstrated that majority of Missourians support right-to-work laws. A poll by the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, a conservative group, found that 54 percent of Missourians support right-to-work. A different survey conducted by polling group American Viewpoint found that 60 percent of Missourians supported HB 116. Nationally, support for right-to-work laws are even higher. One Gallup poll shows that 71 percent of Americans, including 65 percent of Democrats, are in favor of right-to-work laws.
The covert tactics labor unions have used in Missouri to oppose right-to-work are in line with the methods unions have used in other states that have considered right-to-work laws.
In May, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters (a carpenters union) for a campaign against right-to-work that allegedly involved “physical intimidation,” “stalking,” “assault and battery,” and the “destruction of property.” Three years ago in Lansing, Michigan union right-to-work protesters tore down a “workers freedom” tent put up by Americans for Prosperity and stole property located inside the tent. At that same protest, a Fox News contributor was viciously assaulted on camera by union members in the crowd.
Missouri, traditionally an agricultural state, has never had as heavy a union presence as a manufacturing state like Michigan, which possibly explains why tempers haven’t run as high in the “Show Me State.” While not violent, the methods that have been used in Missouri have been disingenuous and desperate. They clearly worked on Governor Nixon, but they haven’t on the majority of Missourians, including both houses of the state legislature, which support right-to-work. In a few weeks we’ll see if the unions sneaky tactics keep the governor’s veto in place.
Erik Telford is President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity