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Jason Hancock

Missouri unions fight state’s right-to-work law

Labor unions had to collect a little more than 100,000 signatures from across Missouri by Aug. 28 if they wanted to put a repeal of right-to-work on the 2018 ballot.

A little over a week earlier, they turned in more than 310,000 signatures.

Republicans have sought to turn Missouri into a right-to-work state for decades. In February, they got their wish when Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation allowing employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented.

But now the law is in jeopardy, and a yearlong battle that will likely cost millions of dollars is about to commence.

“We’ve come together and put in countless hours gathering signatures from voters at festivals, community events, door-to-door canvasses, parades, you name it,” said Bobby Dicken, an electrician from Butler County. “These folks who’ve signed the petition want their voices to be heard.”

The law’s supporters were quick to dismiss the union-led effort.

“Union bosses are afraid of giving workers the freedom to decide if a union is right for the worker and are intent on maintaining their power to force workers to unionize in Missouri,” said Rep. Holly Rehder, a Sikeston Republican.

The signatures will go out to local county clerks for verification, a process likely to take until November. If it’s determined that there are enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot next year, voters would be faced with a yes or no question. A no vote would repeal the law.

Citizens may call a referendum on a measure approved by the General Assembly and not vetoed by the governor. Although the referendum petition was regularly used in Missouri during the early 20th century, the last time it was used was 1982.

Of the 26 times a referendum has been placed on the ballot, voters have rejected actions by the General Assembly all but twice.

While unions are bankrolling the anti-right-to-work campaign, it’s unclear who is paying for the other side.

Donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to pro-right-to-work political action committees after being routed through nonprofits to hide the original source of the funding. One of the nonprofits to donate is A New Missouri Inc., which was founded by Greitens’ political team.

This article originally appeared in the Kansas City Star on Aug. 18.