State Policy Network
Kentucky and Missouri Join Ranks of Right-to-Work States

2017 is expected to be a major year for policy reform in the states. After only a month in, there is already an unprecedented pace of change—especially in labor reform. Since the first of the year, two states—Missouri and Kentucky—have given workers in public and private sectors the right to choose whether they want to join a union and pay union dues.

On February 6, 2017, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed legislation making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state in the nation. The state followed in the footsteps of Kentucky, which became the 27th right-to-work state in early January. These reforms have restored the voice of workers that has long been drowned out by union bosses.

Missouri workers found a champion in the Show-Me Institute. For several years, the Institute has educated Missouri policymakers and citizens on the need for worker freedom. During this legislative session, Show-Me Institute lent support to Missouri workers by testifying on the merits of right-to-work before policymakers.

“Right-to-work is a great step toward worker freedom, and we were happy to play a role in making the case for it adoption,” said Show-Me Institute CEO Brenda Talent.

Show-Me Institute’s testimony was bolstered by testimony from Terry Bowman, a former union member at Ford Motor Company. State Policy Network connected Bowman to Show-Me’s effort so that the Senate and House committees could hear firsthand the powerful story of a union member who has fought for and exercised his right to opt out of the union.

In Kentucky, right-to-work is already ushering in a new wave of economic opportunity.

“It’s no coincidence that less than 30 days following passage of right-to-work in Kentucky, Amazon announced it was choosing Kentucky over Ohio, where forced unionism is still allowed for a new $1.5 billion shipping facility and nearly 3,000 new jobs,” said Jim Waters, CEO of the Bluegrass Institute. “The Bluegrass Institute’s vison is to move the Bluegrass State from dependence to prosperity. This entire region of the country is becoming a mecca of economic growth and opportunities for thousands.”

But right-to-work is only the threshold for labor reform in Missouri and Kentucky.

“Let’s take the next step by reforming government unions. That will protect taxpayers and workers in Missouri and ensure that those governing and spending our tax dollars will be representing our interests, not special interests,” said Talent.

By reforming government unions, states can pave the way for better policy solutions and protect union members’ right to free speech. Government unions are often the loudest voice against free-market solutions that they believe will work against their special interests. They use member dues to fund their political activity regardless of whether their members agree with their cause. In many cases, using dues for political causes amplifies the voices of union bosses while silencing government workers. Reforming government unions is an important next step to ensure government workers have a voice and can decide for themselves which political causes they want to support.

Kentucky, Missouri, and other right-to-work states should look to Wisconsin’s success in reforming government unions. As a result of Wisconsin’s changes, lobbying efforts from government unions have decreased by 83 percent, indicating that government unions are drowning out the voice of workers and citizens far less than before. The MacIver Institute found that reforms to collective bargaining and union recertification have saved Wisconsin $5.24 billion.

In addition to reforming government unions, right-to-work states need to ensure workers know of their new right to exercise their voice and opt out of the union if they so choose. Informing state workers of this right is one way state think tanks can continue championing worker freedom even after right-to-work has been signed into law.

In the weeks ahead, the spotlight will be on New Hampshire—the next state anticipated to vote on right-to-work. If New Hampshire follows suit, this legislative session could be one of the greatest the states have seen for labor reform in decades.


Policy Issues: Workplace Freedom