(Reuters) - Voters in Missouri on Tuesday overwhelmingly decided to strike down a so-called “right-to-work” law barring the collection of fees from private-sector workers who choose not to become union members, a crucial victory for organized labor following a series of setbacks.
Missouri residents voted by a 2-to-1 ratio to defeat the state law, which Republican lawmakers approved last year but had been put on hold pending the ballot referendum. Unions say that because they are required to bargain on behalf of all workers, including non-members, those workers should contribute a fair share of the dues paid by members.
The vote marked the first time that a right-to-work law was struck down at the polls. Twenty-seven other states have adopted such laws, including five since 2012, and the Missouri vote was seen as an important chance for labor groups to stem the tide.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark decision in June, said that requiring public-sector workers who do not join unions to pay fees violates their free speech rights. That decision will deprive public worker unions of millions of dollars and could decrease their political clout.
President Donald Trump has appointed officials with long records of opposing unions to influential labor posts in his administration.
Had Missouri’s law been upheld, an estimated 60,000 fewer workers could have been represented by unions, according to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. The resulting loss of dues would have made it more difficult for unions, which typically support Democratic candidates, to contribute to political campaigns and to organize more workers.
The momentum from the Missouri vote and a series of teacher strikes across the country could lead to major gains for unions in November’s mid-term elections, said Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation.
“The victory in Missouri follows a national wave of inspiring activism ... and electoral triumphs that remind America the path to power runs through the labor movement,” Trumka said.
Many business groups supported the right-to-work law, saying it would spur job creation and that it was unfair to force workers to subsidize unions that they do not join.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which lobbies for such laws and represents workers with legal claims against unions, contributed more than $750,000 to a campaign to defeat the referendum. Overall, unions and their allies outspent supporters of the law by nearly 5-to-1.
Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Trott