In Missouri, labor unions’ dwindling muscle tracks national decline

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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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