by Bob Kaiser, Daniel O’Toole, and Jeremy Brenner
As anticipated, the Missouri Legislature has once again passed a right-to-work law. However, unlike the two prior right-to-work measures passed by the legislature but vetoed by former Governor Jay Nixon, the version passed on February 2 was signed into law by newly elected Governor Eric Greitens on February 6. Missouri has now become the 28th right-to-work state.
Law’s key provisions
The key provisions of Missouri’s new right-to-work law are as follows:
- No employee may, as a condition of employment, be required to become or remain a member of a union.
- No employee may, as a condition of employment, be required to pay dues or fees to a union (commonly referred to as “union security” or a “union security clause”).
- Any agreement, such as a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), that violates the law is unlawful, null and void, and of no legal effect.
- Any person injured as a result of a violation of the law may recover damages, including attorneys’ fees.
- The law doesn’t apply to employees covered by the federal Railway Labor Act or to federal employees.
- The law doesn’t apply to a CBA entered into before the effective date of the law, but it does apply to any CBA upon its later renewal, extension, amendment, or modification after August 28, 2017, the effective date of the law.
Independent of the ramifications for unions, Missouri employers—including those that don’t have a union workforce—should be aware of several important implications:
- The law does not terminate an employer’s legal obligation to bargain with a union that represents an employee bargaining unit.
- The law does not terminate a union’s obligation to provide fair representation to all employees in the bargaining unit it represents, including bargaining and prosecuting grievances, even for employees who don’t pay dues.
- Employees in a bargaining unit who choose not to pay union dues are still covered by the CBA.
- Unions may find that they actually have an easier time unionizing, at least in the short term. Many employees vote “no” simply because they don’t want to pay union dues. Unions can now tell those employees that they don’t have to pay union dues if they don’t think the union is earning its keep. Eliminating this factor can actually create challenges to avoiding organizing because employees can take a chance on the union without any risk since they can simply choose not to pay dues.
In the short term, we also expect unions to scramble to reopen or obtain multiyear extensions of current CBAs to try to prolong the validity of their current union security clauses, which then may potentially create an opening for employers to obtain more favorable terms, locked in for years, in exchange for agreeing to the extension.
While it’s too soon to say precisely what the impact of the law will be, in the medium to long term, the law is expected to weaken unions in Missouri by negatively affecting their revenue stream—employee dues—which will then affect the unions’ ability to organize campaigns, prosecute grievances and arbitrations, and lobby. Ultimately, employers may even see unions simply walk away from bargaining units.