ST. LOUIS — For the first time in years, unions are winning again. At least that was their takeaway from a successful referendum fight against Missouri's Right to Work Law, which was overturned at the ballot box last Tuesday.
Unions have struggled to regain the political clout they once wielded as declining membership and state laws rolling back organizing rights have swept the nation.
But a multimillion-dollar effort from national union groups to fund an extensive get-out-the-vote and voter registration effort helped beat back Missouri’s law, which would’ve allowed non-union workers to opt out of paying fees for unions to negotiate on their behalf — but still reap the benefits of a union-negotiated contract.
While fewer than 9 percent of the state’s workers are in unions, members said the drop in funding and membership would’ve dealt a crushing blow to their ability to negotiate and lobby successfully for better benefits and pay for workers.
Right to Work proponents, meanwhile, argued that Missouri was operating at an economic disadvantage to nearby states that have the law on their books, and struggling to attract business. The Midwestern state is surrounded on nearly all sides with RTW states.
But union backers argued the fight had broader significance than just Missouri, pointing to their successful campaign against the law as a roadmap for workers in other states to follow to try to roll back similar anti-union laws. They also say they plan to keep the political infrastructure they developed for this campaign active through November in hopes of defeating lawmakers they believe are bad for workers’ rights.
Still, Right to Work supporters, like Republican State Sen. Dave Schatz, say they plan to try again to pass a law in the state.
“If we're not successful, do we think we come back at some point in time and readdress the issue? I think so," Schatz told VICE News before the vote. "Because we continue seeing the trend of states moving to worker freedom, and I think that's going to continue on."
This segment originally aired August 7, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.