Politics

In Missouri, labor unions’ dwindling muscle tracks national decline

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the state’s labor unions have positioned themselves as defenders of the middle class, sounding the alarm about a right-to-work bill they say will end labor unions as we know them.

“House Bill 116 is a war on your paycheck,” the governor shouted to a crowd of union supporters at a made-for-TV event in Kansas City, where he vetoed the bill. “It cannot become law.”

But outside the echo chamber of state politics, where Democrats — but also some Republicans — are keen to protect unions so they can continue to benefit from organized labor’s political contributions, preventing the passage of a right-to-work bill is unlikely to reverse a decades-old trend: Membership in Missouri unions is shrinking, and their political influence is dwindling.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation about right-to-work if the unions were stronger, and they’re just not as strong as they used to be,” Marvin Overby, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri, told Watchdog.

The governor, a Democrat, already vetoed the bill once, in June. A likely September override vote in the Legislature could make Missouri may the 26th state with a right-to-work law on the books.

Right-to-work bills like Missouri’s prohibit unions from automatically collecting dues from workers’ paychecks as a payroll deduction. If the bill passes, workers who don’t wish to join a union do not have to contribute to the union.

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