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The next wave of labor reform is swelling in the Midwest

The next wave of labor reform is swelling in the Midwest
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In late May, Missouri joined the ranks of a few elite states that have chosen to protect the freedoms of public employees and taxpayers by way of major government union reform legislation.

While many eyes are on the Supreme Court as the country awaits a decision in the workplace freedom case, Janus v. AFSCME, the significance of the Missouri victory should not be ignored. The Janus case may have major impact as it stands to bring right-to-work protections to government employees across the country. But Missouri’s reforms will likely pave the way for a wave of workplace democracy legislation in states looking to go beyond right-to-work.

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Like Wisconsin and most recently Iowa, Missouri enacted a comprehensive bill that brings financial transparency to both union members and taxpayers, and gives most government union members the ability to vote on which union represents them every three years.

 

For many government union members, this is the first time they have the right to vote in the workplace. Additionally, the new law, authored by Sen. Bob Onder, ensures financial transparency by holding government unions to similar annual reporting standards as those required of private-sector unions.

The law also includes provisions, known as paycheck protections, to help prevent unions from trapping public employees into paying them. Now, public employees are able to annually choose to continue membership in their unions, or not, rather than being forced to navigate a difficult and confusing process to opt out of membership, as is the case in many states.

For over half a century, Missouri government unions have been allowed to operate unchallenged and without competition, so the legislation constitutes a major victory for those who favor policies that give people more freedom in the workplace. Members have had little-to-no recourse to challenge ineffective unions or understand how their dues were being spent.

Now union executives will be held accountable.

Coming off the state’s right-to-work victory early this year that gave people a choice in union membership, this new law gives public employees a voice in union membership. It takes effect August 28 and will ensure union representation is not an heirloom, but something that is a conscience and intentional choice.

Moving forward, unions that provide quality services to their members will likely continue to exist but those unions that have taken their members for granted may very well lose their elections if they fail to garner a clear majority of the employee votes. It is anticipated that competition will lead to better service outcomes for public employees.

Unfortunately, this historic reform went virtually unnoticed as it was overshadowed by a scandal involving former Governor Eric Greitens’ and his subsequent resignation. The governor signed the bill on his last day in office making Missouri the second state this year, after Florida, to implement workplace democracy. It also came weeks before the anticipated Janus decision, making it a virtually unacknowledged victory for Missouri workers and the states that are sure to follow in its footsteps.

The Show-Me Institute, the Missouri free-market think tank, started the effort to introduce accountability to the workplace when it crafted model legislation and included it in its “Blueprint” publication to move the state forward. Onder used this in crafting his eventual legislation and subsequent fight to gain support.

Inspired by Act 10 and the substantial economic benefits Wisconsin experienced after it passed, Missouri and a handful of other states have fought in recent years to give public employees the right to vote on their unions and safeguard financial transparency. Iowa became the second state last year to pass comprehensive government union reform.

Florida did not pass the big changes that Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri succeeded in getting done, but did enact a law giving public employees with less than 50 percent membership in the union, the right to vote on whether to keep the union in place.

What started in Wisconsin has slowly simmered over the past half-decade but is now beginning to boil over in other states.

The successes achieved recently in Iowa, Florida, and now Missouri signal a growing trend to expand the rights of employees when it comes to government unions. With Michigan and Oklahoma possibly on deck this and next year, its apparent that the tide is turning in favor of giving government union employees the freedom of choice they deserve.

Ryan Johnson is the principal of Exemplar Public Affairs, and focuses on labor reform policy for the State Policy Network and Missouri Century Foundation.  F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior policy advisor for the State Policy Network and senior fellow for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.