Missouri's Greitens Guts Public-Sector Unions on His Way out the Door

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Former Governor Eric Greitens speaks on January 29, 2018, in Palmyra, Missouri.

In the waning hours of his tenure as governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens delivered on his campaign pledge to kneecap the state’s labor unions.

A former up-and-comer in the Republican Party, Greitens’s star quickly dimmed after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced and a felony charge of invasion of privacy and a charge of potential campaign-finance violations followed. Under the threat of impeachment proceedings in the state legislature, Greitens announced his resignation right after Memorial Day, giving himself until the end of that week to tie up loose ends on his way out the door.

And tie them up, he did.

Greitens signed a staggering 77 bills into law before handing the reins over to Mike Parson, his lieutenant governor. One of those bills was H.B. 1413, which would require unionized government employees to vote every three years on whether they want their union to continue to represent them. Any union that fails to get a majority of its members to vote in the affirmative would no longer be permitted to represent those workers. This onerous requirement essentially erodes union membership and undermines collective-bargaining power.

H.B. 1413 also requires public-sector workers to make an annual decision on whether union dues can be deducted from their earnings. The provision, called “paycheck protection” by its supporters but labeled “paycheck deception” by its opponents, also would allow public-sector employees to opt out of paying dues even if those workers benefit from collective bargaining.

A stricter version of the bill, signed by Greitens last February, allowed both public- and private-sector employees to opt out of paying union dues. But that law, which would have made Missouri the country’s 28th “right to work” state, was put on hold before it could go into effect, thanks to a push by a coalition of union members and other opponents. Instead, the coalition launched a petition drive to put the measure on the ballot, gathering more than 300,000 signatures—state law only requires 100,000.

The vote was originally scheduled for November but was moved to August after Greitens signed a joint legislative resolution backed by the Republican-dominated state legislature (another of the governor’s parting gifts to labor unions in the Show Me State). Union leaders and Democratic lawmakers have labeled the decision, which moves the vote to a lower-turnout primary, as a thinly veiled attempt to give the edge to the right-to-work supporters. Yet even if labor wins the August referendum, they’ll still have to contend with H.B. 1413.

Right-to-work legislation can dampen overall voter turnout and inflict serious damage to Democratic candidates up and down the ticket. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study found that right-to-work laws cost Democratic presidential candidates 2 to 5 percentage points in counties where those laws had been enacted. Moreover, the study found that the number of elected lawmakers with blue-collar backgrounds plummeted after such laws were implemented.

The political advantages of these union-busting tactics explain the dizzying amount of dark

money that has swirled around politicians like Greitens, whose nonprofit group A New Missouri recently spent more than $1 million on pushing the governor’s anti-union agenda. The shady nonprofit recently found itself next to Greitens in the hot seat when a Cole County judge ordered the group to turn over internal documents subpoenaed by a state legislative committee investigating allegations against the former governor.

Greitens’s resignation came as part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop a felony charge of improper use of a donor list taken from The Mission Continues, a veterans’ charity he founded in 2007. Now that Greitens is out of office, it remains to be seen whether the judge will insist that A New Missouri provide documents that, according to lawmakers, could reveal schemes to bypass the state's campaign disclosure laws.

Meanwhile, Greitens’s departure will do little to derail Republican efforts to weaken labor unions in the state. While the embattled governor is now out of the picture, Parsons has voiced support for right-to-work laws in the past and is unlikely to stand in the way of any anti-union legislation in the future.

The Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill that would have put a pro-right-to-work constitutional amendment on the November ballot, but the legislative session ended last month before the measure could be passed in the state Senate.

The fight in Missouri is far from over: Depending on the outcome of the August vote, right-to-work groups could pursue an amendment to the Missouri Constitution or the union-backed coalition could continue its fight to have labor protections enshrined in the document. Whatever the result, Greitens leaves a political legacy colored by hostility to labor and tarnished by scandal.

Tax cuts for the rich. Deregulation for the powerful. Wage suppression for everyone else. These are the tenets of trickle-down economics, the conservatives' age-old strategy for advantaging the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the middle class and poor. The articles in Trickle-Downers are devoted, first, to exposing and refuting these lies, but equally, to reminding Americans that these claims aren't made because they are true. Rather, they are made because they are the most effective way elites have found to bully, confuse, and intimidate middle- and working-class voters. Trickle-down claims are not real economics. They are negotiating strategies. Here at the Prospect, we hope to help you win that negotiation.

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