It was just a year ago this weekend that I posted a blog on “The Labor Movement and the Middle Class.” I stand by what I wrote then in terms of the critical link between the labor movement and the success of the middle class. But, on reflection, if you had asked me at that time of the chances that Missouri would repeal their Right to Work law, I would have probably said slim to none. I would have said so because, as I wrote, the labor movement had been on a long decline. How could they possibly have the political muscle to achieve this goal? Oh for sure the labor folks worked hard and invested much in this effort. But I really believe what brought this success this time is they got the people to understand that what they wanted would be for the greater good of the State of Missouri, not just for union members and Unions in general.
As I put this salute together, I was reminded of a parallel experience growing up on and operating a dairy and Registered Holstein herd for many years. Most agricultural commodities had a checkoff so that, as commodities were sold, there would be money pooled to promote the product and fund further research and development into that commodity. For dairy, it was milk checks to go primarily towards marketing their product. It was put in place by a vote of those who produced and sold their milk to Co-Ops primarily. But when the majority vote took place and it came time to implement, the checkoff applied to even those who opposed the checkoff. There was no “right to sell” without the checkoff but with the benefits. Everyone participated. I also remember listening to dairymen defend their system and, at the same time, oppose labor’s view on Right to Work. Apparently, consistency doesn’t always govern.
Federal laws permit and enforce many mandatory commodity checkoffs. Meaning we currently require farmers to chip in “for the good of the group,” but when workers wish to pool together their resources for their collective benefit, we pass laws that essentially exempt people from having to pay into it. Afterall, the so-called “Right to Work” is really just the right to avoid paying union dues, while any benefits that result from the negotiations—to the employees themselves or the labor market as a whole—still come your way.
So I salute the repeal of Right to Work in Missouri, and I issue a warning to their Legislature. The initial reaction from the Republican Legislative leadership on the repeal is to consider the possibility of just passing a new “Right to Work” law. In their view, they are the all-powerful legislature and are in a much better position to know what is best for the state. If that is the case, the next people's movement just might be taking them out of office.