St Louis, MO – Missouri’s new law banning the union shop won’t be going into effect today.
A union-backed campaign to put a referendum to repeal the law on the state ballot in November 2018 submitted petitions bearing more than 310,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office Aug. 18. That prevented the measure, signed by Gov. Eric Greitens in February, from going into effect as scheduled on Aug. 28.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft still has to rule on whether the petitions have enough valid signatures to make the ballot, but “I would be shocked if we didn’t,” says Laura Swinford, a spokesperson for the We Are Missouri campaign. About 5,000 people marched on the state capitol to deliver the petitions.
To qualify, the repeal referendum needs to have collected signatures exceeding 5% of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election—about 2.8 million statewide—from six of the state’s eight congressional districts, a number generally estimated at about 100,000. Local election officials will review the petitions to check that the signatures are not duplicates and come from registered voters, according to a spokesperson for Ashcroft’s office. Their rough deadline is Nov. 1.
We Are Missouri believes it’s going to be the first ballot measure in the state’s history to qualify in all eight districts, Swinford says. They even got a “fantastic response” in the Bootheel, the southeastern region where Donald Trump won more than 70% of the vote last year.
Gov. Greitens, a Republican, made the so-called “right to work” law, which prohibits workers from having to pay any dues or fees to a labor union to cover the costs of representation required by federal law, a top priority in his campaign last year. His predecessor, Democrat Jay Nixon, had vetoed similar measures, which were sustained with the help of a handful of Republican legislators. Missouri’s labor unions immediately began a campaign to repeal it.
A substantial amount of “dark money”—funds from political-action committees that are not required to disclose their donors—has already poured into the campaign to sustain the law. Greitens’ dark-money PAC, A New Missouri, has so far given $350,000 to the Missourians for Worker Freedom PAC, the Kansas City Star reported Aug. 9. Missourians for Worker Freedom’s minimal Web site states that the law “empowers the individual worker” and “grows wages and attracts business to the state,” but “union bosses and their liberal allies are working to forge a smear campaign against Right to Work.”
Another dark-money PAC, the American Democracy Alliance, in early August gave $150,000 to Missourians for Worker Freedom and $350,000 to the Liberty Alliance, which has the same address and phone number, according to the St. Louis Labor Tribune. The American Democracy Alliance, formed in 2007, is based in the state Republican party chair’s Kansas City law office.
The Liberty Alliance, which also has a minimal Website, says that “workers who are forced to join unions and pay union dues are really forced to support Big Labor’s political agenda,” including “left-wing political candidates like Hillary Clinton,” abortion rights, and “anti-gun legislation.” (In a union shop, workers can opt out of paying dues that support the union’s political activity, and instead pay a fee that covers only the cost of representation. “Right to work” laws enable them to refuse to pay those fees.)
David Humphries, owner of a building-supply company in Joplin, gave the Liberty Alliance $100,000 on Aug. 8, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Humphries, who is nicknamed one of the state’s two “little Koch brothers”—the other is retired stock speculator Rex Sinquefield—spent well over $1 million last year trying to unseat the Republican legislators who’d voted to sustain Nixon’s vetoes of “right-to-work” bills.
Railroad-construction magnate Stanley Herzog of St. Joseph also gave the Liberty Alliance $100,000 in late July, as did Richard Uihlein, a shipping-materials manufacturer from the Chicago suburbs who has been a major donor to far-right causes. Herzog’s nonunion company drew opposition from Kansas City building-trades unions in 2013 when it beat out two union contractors bidding to build the city’s streetcar system.
“It’s nothing that surprises us,” says Swinford. “Every time workers in Missouri start to organize, six-figure checks start flowing.”
To beat that, “you have to start working earlier, you have to work harder, you have to work the grass roots… and educate people about what ‘right to work’ really means,” she says. “Folks are excited.”
We Are Missouri had received more than $1 million by the end of July, according to figures filed with the state ethics commission. Almost all came from unions, including the state AFL-CIO, two United Food and Commercial Workers locals in St. Louis, a Pipe Fitters Association local in Kansas City, and the national International Union of Operating Engineers.