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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Missouri Becomes Nation’s 28th Right to Work State

In a ceremony in Springfield, Missouri on February 6, 2017, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed Senate Bill 19 into law, making Missouri the 28th “Right to Work” state in the nation.  The law, which will be effective August 28, 2017 (unless delayed or rejected by referendum) and will be found at R.S.Mo. § 290.590, states in relevant part:

No person shall be required as a condition . . . of employment to . . . become a member of a labor organization; pay any dues, fees, assessments or other similar charges . . . to a labor organization; or . . . pay to any charity or other third party any amount equivalent to . . . any dues, fees, assessments,or other charges required of members of a labor organization.

Before yesterday, even employees who were not members of a union could be required, under some collective bargaining agreements, to pay union dues or agency fees (the portion of dues that goes to internal advocacy and bargaining rather than to political endeavors), based on the rationale that unions are federally required to represent all employees.  Missouri’s new law means that labor organizations can no longer make such agreements.  Supporters of the law say that it will make Missouri more competitive and will attract business by reducing employers’ costs, while labor organizations worry that their ability to collectively bargain for workers will be undercut if some employees choose not to contribute dues or agency fees to their organizations.  History suggests a basis for the labor organizations’ concerns, particularly because union membership has been dropping in recent years.  Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only about 6.4% of private sector employees – and  a total of 10.7% of private and public sector employees – are union members.     

Under the new law, which appears to apply to both public and private sector employers, any labor or employment agreement that violates the above provision will be immediately null and void.  Violation of the Right to Work law is a Class C Misdemeanor and the law mandates that local prosecutors and the Attorney General investigate and prosecute all such violations.  Additionally, aggrieved employees will be able to seek injunctive relief and money damages, including attorneys’ fees, for violations of the law. 

Missouri’s Right to Work law does not apply to several classes of employees, most notably federal employees, employees in exclusive federal enclaves, and workers in the railroad and airline industries.  Furthermore, the law does not go into effect until August 28, 2017, and explicitly grandfathers all labor agreements entered into before that effective date.  However, once those grandfathered agreements are renewed, extended, amended, or modified after the effective date, then the Right to Work statute will apply. 

The full text of the Right to Work law can be viewed here.  The foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation and should not be relied on as such.  Please contact one of our labor and employment lawyers if you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the impact of this law on your organization.

This update was prepared by Charles S. Elbert, Kevin A. Sullivan, and Erin M. Leach.

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