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The Truth about "Right to Work" Legislation

"Right to work" legislation is once again in the news, particularly here in Southwest Missouri, as a result of republican Missouri state representative Eric Burlison's recent comments suggesting he plans to refile a "right to work" bill for the 2014 Missouri House regular session beginning in January. Burlison claims the legislation, if passed, would woo aircraft manufacturer Boeing into choosing... 

"Right to work" legislation is once again in the news, particularly here in Southwest Missouri, as a result of republican Missouri state representative Eric Burlison's recent comments suggesting he plans to refile a "right to work" bill for the 2014 Missouri House regular session beginning in January.  Burlison claims the legislation, if passed, would woo aircraft manufacturer Boeing into choosing Missouri to house production of its 777x aircraft. 

The employment law sector of our firm regularly fields questions from potential clients asking whether Missouri is a "right to work" state.  The common misconception, and one which is not helped by suggesting such laws give you a "right to work," is that "right to work" legislation provides something like a guarantee of employment to people seeking work or protections to those who are already employed.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

"A 'right to work' law is one that prohibits the traditional union security devices of the closed shop and union shop."  105 A.L.R.5th 243 (2003).  Such a law usually allows employers to hire non-union workers and can contain clauses forbidding contracts between employers and labor unions ordinarily designed to protect employees.  Currently, 24 states are "right to work" states.  The average worker in those states makes $1,540.00 less a year than workers in non-"right to work" states.  The median household income in "right to work" states is $6,437.00 less than in other states and 26.7% of the jobs in "right to work" states are low wage occupations, compared with 19.5% of jobs in other states.

So in actuality "right to work" laws do nothing to protect the wages and conditions of workers and actually significantly reduce or completely destroy the protections of workers benefitting from membership in labor unions.  The push to pass such laws is always funded by partisan groups attempting to ensure their politics guarantee lowers wages and living standards for working people. 

Burlison's comments suggest he is willing to completely destroy Missouri's labor and employment protections for workers to secure one contract with a manufacturer who already rejected an $8.7 billion incentive package from Washington state for the 777x.  The latest deal approved by Missouri Senate and House Committees offers Boeing $1 billion in tax breaks over the next twenty years.  If Boeing will not accept $8.7 billion to stay in Washington, what justification can you give to argue offering $1 billion and making Missouri the 25th "right to work" state will make Boeing come here?  The answer is: It won't.  The fact that Boeing imposed a December 10 deadline for proposals, making it impossible to pass any sort of far-sweeping "right to work" legislation to affect the Boeing deal, makes Burlison's motivations even more suspect.

Moreover, among the twelve other states vying for the 777x contract, Boeing is also considering states other than Missouri without "right to work" laws (California and Pennsylvania).  If those states can entice employers without punishing the rest of the workforce, Missouri lawmakers should work on ways to make our state more attractive to potential employers.  Recent data suggests they are doing a fairly good job of that already.

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