Our neighbor is sending a message.
For the past several years, Illinois has been a center of attacks on organized labor. But Tuesday’s pro-union vote next door in the red state of Missouri tells us people’s hearts really aren’t into destroying unions.
Missourians by a two-to-one margin overturned a so-called “right to work” law, which in this case allowed workers at union shops to get union benefits without joining the union. “Right to work” is a cynical way to weaken unions, and 27 states now have such laws, including such recent converts as Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Unions call the laws the “right to work for less,” a knock backed up by research. The Economic Policy Institute, for one, says wages drop by 3.1 percent in right-to-work states. Weaker unions also mean weaker protections for all workers, union or not.
Illinois was the starting point for the recently decided case of Janus v. AFSCME, in which the U.S. Supreme Court cast aside 40 years of settled law to essentially impose right-to-work law for public unions across the nation. Another Illinois case, this one originating from suburban Lincolnshire, seeks to allow local governments, not just states, to impose right-to-work laws. It’s working its way through the federal courts.
In recent years, the mega-wealthy, corporations and conservative activists who want to squelch the influence of unions have had a string of successes. Just 10.7 percent of American workers were members of labor unions last year, compared with 20.1 percent in 1983. But the vote in very red Missouri — President Donald Trump won the state by almost 20 points — and recent successful teacher strikes in the red states of West Virginia and Oklahoma show that change is in the wind.
Most Missourians who backed the unions demonstrated they favor the idea of collective bargaining even though they don’t have union jobs themselves.
A 2017 Gallup poll indicated that labor union approval, at 61 percent, was at its highest since 1963. A recent Pew Research Center survey showed young people now view labor unions more favorably than corporations.
Unions face a long, uphill battle. Trump and the Republican Senate are stocking the federal courts with anti-union judges. Winning in Missouri required massive amounts of union spending and a large grass-roots effort. The growth of a globalized economy and the loss of jobs to ever-more sophisticated automation also work against unions.
But if the Show Me State is showing us something, it’s that support for worker’s rights remains strong among ordinary Americans.
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