In a ballot blowout Tuesday, Missouri voters rejected the Legislature’s attempt to undermine organized labor rights, under the cynical misnomer “right to work.” Proposition A, asking whether Missourians support the anti-union law passed by legislators last year, failed by a more than 2-to-1 ratio. You couldn’t reasonably ask for a clearer verdict from the people.
Yet, if recent history is a guide, the Republican-controlled Legislature can be expected to overrule voters and press right to work into law. It’s happened before on a wide range of issues. They will keep getting away with it unless Missourians force them to respect the will of the people.
This time, everyone should be watching for it. If the Legislature refuses to abide by the vote, it might be time to consider another ballot initiative — one to prohibit the Legislature from overturning future ballot initiatives, as Arizona voters did 20 years ago.
Government-by-referendum isn’t necessarily the best way to run a state, but in this case it was a legitimate response to a labor law that most workers didn’t want. The law would have allowed employees in union shops to opt out of paying union dues or fees. Despite its blue-collar name, the right-to-work movement here and nationally is an employer-driven campaign to weaken collective bargaining. Does anyone truly believe employers want this so they can offer their workers more pay and better benefits?
If lawmakers disregard the clearly expressed will of the people on this issue, it wouldn’t be the first time. In 1994, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure limiting campaign contributions, only to have the Legislature undo it in 2008. Lawmakers in 2003 passed a concealed-carry gun measure despite the fact that voters had earlier rejected the proposal. They also diverted education money from a 2008 casino tax initiative. In 2011, legislators rolled back restrictions voters had placed on Missouri’s worst-in-the-nation “puppy mill” industry.
Whatever your position on those issues, you should be appalled by the arrogance of a legislative Sorry, no response to such an unambiguous expression of the public will. Each time legislators have overruled Missouri voters, it was in service to some powerful lobby — or, in the case of campaign contributions, to themselves.
“I think it was disheartening that the unions wanted to go against what the people of Missouri wanted,” right-to-work supporter Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said in March after labor organizers forced the Prop A vote. Now that we know what the people of Missouri actually do want, will Republican legislators respect that?
Arizona voters, fed up with legislators there passing laws to undo what voters had done via referendum, passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 prohibiting such overturns. It’s an extreme step that would require careful consideration, but it may be necessary if the Missouri Legislature once again displays hostility toward democracy.