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Missouri voters deliver big win for unions with repeal of right to work

Mike Louis, the president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, declares victory in defeating Proposition A on August 7, 2018 at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Mike Louis, the president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, declares victory in defeating Proposition A on August 7, 2018 at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36.

Missouri voters rejected the right-to-work measure on Tuesday, delivering a big blow to a priority of the GOP-controlled legislature and powerful business groups.

It’s the second time in the last 40 years that Missourians defeated the policy, which bars unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment.

In the other statewide contest on Tuesday’s ballot, Saundra McDowell bested three other Republicans to take on state Auditor Nicole Galloway.

The right-to-work referendum, known as Proposition A, failed by a margin of more than 67 percent. That means the right-to-work law that was implemented last year will be repealed.

“Together, we have made history two times in 40 years — we defeated right to work,” Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis said to a jubilant crowd.


Proponents contended the measure would draw businesses and economic opportunities to Missouri. But detractors of the policy believe it will ultimately lead to unions having less money — and therefore less power to negotiate higher wages and benefits.

Despite being passed with much fanfare in the early days of former Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration, right to work never actually went into effect. Unions gathered more than enough signatures to trigger a rare referendum vote. Missouri lawmakers moved the referendum from November to August, depriving Democrats of a potential turnout mechanism to help U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in her re-election bid.

Labor groups poured millions of dollars to a committee seeking to defeat Proposition A. That money paid for ads saying right-to-work states had lower collective wages, which was likely aimed at showing non-union voters how the issue affected them.

Louis said Tuesday’s vote sent a big message to Missouri lawmakers — and the nation.

“I think it goes back to our messaging and our belief of what this is all about,” Louis said. “This is truly about rebuilding the middle class of America.”

Despite the victory Tuesday, labor unions aren’t necessarily out of the woods.

That’s because the referendum doesn’t stop the Missouri General Assembly from passing a bill to implement right to work — or for Gov. Mike Parson to sign such a measure. Unions were hoping that a solid ‘no’ vote would dissuade lawmakers from bringing the issue back up.

“The numbers don’t lie. Missouri will continue to fall behind until we pass freedom to work into law,” said Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan in a statement. “This statement is not a concession. With the future of our state’s economy on the line, we cannot concede hope that Missouri will soon join most other states and pass freedom to work protections.”

Missouri lawmakers already passed significant union restrictions during this past legislative session. That includes weakening the prevailing wage for some construction projects and restricting automatic deduction of dues for public sector union members.

For his part, Louis said Tuesday’s vote should be a warning against Republicans revisiting right to work.

“Some legislators have already made that statement that they don’t care if it passes or not, they’ve already got a plan to take care of this themselves when they go back,” Louis said. “I don’t know if there’s a way for them to do it without us stopping it.

“It’s sure got to make them think about what they’re doing when their own constituents have said ‘60-40 we don’t want this,’” he added.

McDowell to face Galloway

The GOP primary for state auditor was a decidedly low-key affair, with the four candidates emphasizing their resumes and platforms — and generally staying away from attacking each other. 

Saundra McDowell prevailed in the state auditor's primary.
Credit Saundra McDowell via YouTube
Saundra McDowell prevailed in the state auditor's primary.

McDowell is a lawyer who’s worked as an assistant attorney general under Democrat Chris Koster, and until February of this year was enforcement director of the securities division for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican.

She ended up spending relatively little money in the race. The biggest spender was David Wasinger, who ran television ads thanks to roughly $500,000 of self-funding.

"I think Missouri was able to see that [I was] the candidate with the most experience and the whole package, basically, to go against the incumbent, Nicole Galloway. So, I don't think that, contrary to what most people believe, that money always wins elections," McDowell said.

While the state auditor’s contest is bound to get less attention than the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Josh Hawley, it could have long-term ramifications for the state.

Galloway, who was appointed auditor after the death of Republican Tom Schweich in 2015, is widely seen as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2020. But her future political stock could take a major hit if she can’t win in her bid for a full term. Galloway has never faced an opponent in her political career. She ran unopposed for Boone County treasurer after being appointed to that position.

The state auditor will also play a major role in the state legislative redistricting process if a ballot item known as Clean Missouri passes in November. That proposal would have an appointed demographer draw state House and Senate lines under a specific criteria. Missouri’s auditor would deliver demographer candidates for Republican and Democratic Senate leaders to pick.

May delivers upset in state Senate contest

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises on Tuesday night came in Missouri’s 4th state Senate District, where state Rep. Karla May defeated incumbent Sen. Jake Hummel. 

Hummel first won the seat in 2016, when Democratic committee members selected him over May to represent the St. Louis and St. Louis County-based seat. He had a commanding cash advantage, but ended up losing in both the city and the county.

May was first elected to the Missouri House in 2010, unseating an incumbent who prevailed in a special election. The longtime AT&T employee is a member of the Communications Workers of America.

Hummel, a major figure in Missouri’s organized labor movement, spent much of the 2018 primary season campaigning against Proposition A, as well as campaigning for re-election.

Other legislative results include:

  • Brian Williams edged out Sharon Pace and Joe Adams in the race for the 14th District Senate seat, which takes in portions of central and north St. Louis County. Williams is a longtime aide to U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, while Pace and Adams served in the Missouri House. He'll succeed Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City.
  • Chappelle-Nadal beat three other candidates for Adams' University City-based House seat. She'll be able to serve one more term, and then will be barred by term limits from running again.
  • In Missouri’s 81st District, Steve Butz narrowly defeated Travis Estes to represent the St. Louis-based district.
  • Wiley Price IV defeated Brad Bakker to win May’s old 84th District seat.
  • Lakeysha Bosley won a four-way race to succeed state Rep. Michael Butler in the city’s 79th District.
  • Raychel Proudie defeated Lee Smith and Floyd Blackwell to represent the north St. Louis County-based 73rd District. She will succeed state Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-Ferguson.
  • Kevin Windham Jr. will succeed state Rep. Clem Smith in the 85th House District. That district includes a number of municipalities in north St. Louis County.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.