Missouri models Wisconsin on labor reform

Gov. Eric Greitens could become the next conservative hero

By Chantal Lovell and F. Vincent Vernuccio
Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 10 in 2011, he did more than place taxpayers and public employees above entrenched union interests. On a personal level, that moment “started his conservative ascent,” according to The New York Times, and he became the man Rush Limbaugh called “a demonstrated, genuine hero and potential star” in the Republican Party.

Now Missouri’s new governor, Republican Eric Greitens, is poised to take his place on the throne of labor reform. On Monday, he signed legislation making Missouri the country’s 28th right-to-work state, and now he has the opportunity to approve related reforms that would solidify his position in conservative circles and propel him to the national stage.

While protecting workers in the Show-Me State from being fired for not paying union dues is an outstanding accomplishment in its own right, lawmakers are also considering a package of bills that would make Missouri the gold standard for labor law. State Sen. Bob Onder’s Senate Bill 210, the Government Union Reform Act, is the keystone of the package and would give government union members more information on their union’s finances. It would also defend taxpayers against paying for public employees to moonlight as union officials and ensure the secret ballot in union elections. Most significantly, it would protect government union members’ voting rights by allowing them to re-elect or recertify their union every two years.

Most of Missouri’s public-sector labor law was created by judicial fiat when the state Supreme Court found government unions have a right to bargain collectively. In essence, this means Mr. Greitens and the Republican majorities in both houses are starting with a statutory blank slate.

And they’ve chosen a doozy of a place to start. Collectively, the ideas contained in SB 210 would deliver the strongest labor reforms passed in any state since Mr. Walker bravely took on government union privileges in Act 10.

The bill would give members a voice by requiring government unions to be recertified every two years by a majority of those they represent. Through this recertification provision, workers will be able to hold their unions accountable and have the opportunity to elect a new union to represent them if they are unsatisfied. Research from Missouri’s Show-Me Institute indicates that the cost to implement this reform would be about $1.50 per vote (paid in part by union filing fees), meaning public employees could have democracy for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.

SB 210 would also end taxpayer subsidies of government unions that result from the all-too-common practice of union release time. In Missouri and many other states, public employees can do union work — like attend meetings and participate in contract negotiations — all while on the clock for the job taxpayers pay them to do. SB 210 would prevent public employees from doing union business when they are supposed to be, for example, in the classroom teaching.

Fitting for the Show-Me State, SB 210 would extend the same type of transparency requirements private-sector union members enjoy to members of public unions. Government employees would be able to see how their labor leaders spend the dues they pay, where their union’s money is coming from and where it is going.

Finally, the bill would establish the right to a secret ballot in government unions’ organizing elections. Unlike in card-check sign-up schemes in which unions can collect signatures out in the open to organize, secret ballot elections allow employees to make the personal choice on unionization in private and free from intimidation or coercion.

Another introduced bill looking to fill the statutory void would, if passed, repeal the state’s prevailing wage law so taxpayers would no longer be forced to pay inflated union rates on state construction projects. Others would prohibit unions from taking political money directly out of public employees’ paychecks. Yet another would allow public employees who exercise right-to-work to represent themselves in contract negotiations rather than go through the union.

If signed into law, SB 210 could be the new Act 10 and open the door to similar reforms in states across the country. Will Mr. Greitens be the man who sets the new wave of labor reform into motion?

Chantal Lovell is media relations manager at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy.

Copyright © 2017 Mackinac Center, All rights reserved.

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