I was a newly elected legislator who lived three miles from a major auto manufacturing plant when I learned about the Mackinac Center. It was my first year in the Missouri Legislature, and I was about to take a vote on right-to-work.
The educational efforts the Mackinac Center made for me and my colleagues were essential. Labor reform can be one of the scariest issues for first-term legislators. But armed with good data and personal experiences from other states, the Mackinac Center educated legislators and others about the need to protect the workers of the Show-Me State. Missouri passed right-to-work in 2017, though the law was later overturned by a union-led referendum.
I worked with the Mackinac Center again in 2018, supporting the Government Accountability Act, a new bill to help workers. The law would protect union democracy by requiring that a unionized worksite hold an election every three years. This would ensure that any union with a monopoly on representing workers be required to secure a majority vote from current workers, rather than hold onto power with votes cast by workers long gone. The bill called for protecting public employees’ right to a secret ballot in union- organizing elections. Public employee unions would have to get each member’s authorization every year before deducting that person’s dues, a change that would strengthen employee choice. Finally, the bill would ensure transparency for government unions by requiring them to file the same financial reports that private sector unions do.
Public sector collective bargaining was relatively new in Missouri, a creation of court fiat rather than legislation. When it started to take hold, the Mackinac Center came to Missouri and warned us that we needed to take safeguards to protect public employees.
The Mackinac Center, together with the Show-Me Institute, worked hand-in-hand with lawmakers in the House and Senate, educating them on the need for the legislation and how it would help Missouri public employees and taxpayers.
The Government Union Accountability Act was passed and signed into law. But as soon as it took effect, an unelected judge in St. Louis struck down the law. So did the Missouri Supreme Court, which has a history of siding with unions. According to the Show-Me Institute, “Missouri’s specific court rulings have made substantive reforms in [labor policy] nearly impossible.”
Still, we have hope. Even with setbacks, most of which were specific to Missouri, worker freedom can prevail. It should also be noted that not a single lawmaker who voted to protect public employees with the Government Union Accountability Act lost in the general election.
While the story of these efforts in Missouri is not encouraging, it has provided a teachable moment for other states, and we are already seeing that work in positive ways. From Indiana to Oklahoma, executives and policymakers are doing more to protect public employees, and the education Mackinac provides is an invaluable resource.