By Robert N. Mayer
More than 280,000 Missourians are out of work. The alarm is sounding and we should all hear the wake-up call that now is the time to put all the pieces in place so Missouri can truly compete for jobs.
Missouri can no longer continue to do business as usual and expect things to change. That is why, in the Missouri Senate, we are moving forward with several plans this session that are part of an equation to help employers put Missourians back to work in good-paying jobs with benefits. Making Missouri a "right to work" state is part of that equation.
Currently, Missouri is missing out on new jobs because companies are drawn to other states with better worker protection laws. Fifty percent of manufacturers refuse to consider Missouri as a place to locate new jobs because we have no protections against forced unionization of our workers -- that's according to testimony given to the Senate General Laws Committee by Mark Sweeney. Sweeney is a site location consultant who works to find new plant sites for both domestic and foreign manufacturing companies. He says Missouri is off the radar for 50 percent of his clients, plus the rest consider right-to-work laws when weighing which state they will choose.
Not having right-to-work has cost us in many ways.
First, Missouri is losing a congressional seat due to the most recent census data. That data shows businesses with jobs and the workers who take them are fleeing to states with worker protection laws. Non-right-to-work states lost a total of nine congressional seats and, due to population shifts, right-to-work states gained 11. This session we have the opportunity to correct this wrong by bringing beneficial jobs to Missouri while keeping hard-working citizens in our state.
Second, we have underperformed compared with the six of our eight neighboring states that are right-to-work states. All those states have lower unemployment rates than Missouri. Tennessee, the only one with a comparable rate to ours, gained jobs in 2010 while Missouri lost jobs.
Plus, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows unemployment is lower in the 22 states that have adopted right-to-work laws. In the last decade, those states have added 1.5 million private sector jobs, while non-right-to-work states have lost 1.8 million jobs. With more than 160,000 jobs lost in our state since June 2008, we cannot afford to stand by and not take action.
And the "right-to-work for less" claim doesn't hold up. The Senate committee heard testimony that real disposable income per household was higher in right-to-work states, sometimes by as much as $4,300 according to a 2005 study by the University of Colorado.
The bottom line is that our unwillingness to change is costing Missouri jobs.
Right-to-work legislation will in no way stop workers from joining a union or prevent employers from entering into collective bargaining agreements. Rather it simply states that joining a union or paying dues cannot be a condition of getting or keeping a job.
It's time to end the age-old animosity between business and labor by working together to do what's best for the employer and the employee. And that means supporting legislation removing a barrier that's stopping our state from competing with six of our eight neighboring states that have right-to-work laws and the many more in the country that are beating Missouri when it comes to gaining good jobs, especially in manufacturing.
State Sen. Robert N. Mayer, R-Dexter, is the Missouri Senate president pro tem.