Union members and their allies rallied at the Missouri state Capital in Jefferson City after submitting enough signatures to force a referendum on the state’s right-to-work law. 

Missouri voters will still have their chance to repeal the state’s recently-passed right-to-work law, but Republican shenanigans mean the vote will come this summer instead of during November’s general election.

A sign urging Missouri citizens to vote no on Proposition A in the August primary election. The sign was designed by We Are Missouri, a coalition of labor organizations and allies fighting against the bill.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation passed by the GOP-dominated General Assembly that moves the vote on Proposition A to Aug. 7 – the date of the Missouri primary – instead of Nov. 6. A “no” vote would override the right-to-work law passed by the Legislature and signed by Greitens early last year. Greitens resigned his position June 1 amid an impeachment investigation by the state House and potential criminal charges, but it does not impact the legislation.

Last year, the IBEW and its labor allies collected about 311,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot – nearly three times more than required by Missouri law. Sensing that momentum, right-to-work supporters opted to hold the Proposition A vote sooner rather than later in an attempt to thwart working families impact on a race with national implications.

“In November, we have a very highly contested election that may decide control of the United States Senate,” said Tim Green, a former state legislator and now director of governmental affairs for St. Louis Local 1 and the Electrical Connection, Local 1’s partnership with the St. Louis chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

“They did not want the labor vote to be energized on the right-to-work issue, which could possibly benefit Senator McCaskill and not the Republican candidate,” he said.

Right-to-work laws allow employees to opt out of paying union membership dues, even when they enjoy the benefits of a union contract. They undercut wages and benefits throughout a state, affecting union and nonunion workers alike.

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is running for a third term in a state that has gone almost entirely red in the last 10 years. In 2016, the Republicans added to their supermajority in the General Assembly and also took control of six of the eight statewide elected offices.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is the likely Republican nominee. Republicans control the U.S. Senate 51-49 and view Missouri as a prime pickup opportunity.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm seen in the number of signatures to put this on the ballot,” Green said. “Now, that enthusiasm needs to be regenerated in August. If everyone gets out the vote, the labor movement will be successful in defeating this law.”

Green cautioned, however, that a failure to get out the vote has hurt Missouri labor organizations in recent elections.

“Elections have consequences,” said Green, noting that Missouri had fought off other right-to-work attempts before Greitens’ election because a Democrat was in the governor’s mansion. “We need people to participate.”

Missouri political director Rudy Chavez, a former president of Kansas City Local 124, agrees the Senate race was the reason the Legislature moved the Proposition A vote, but he thinks it actually helps the IBEW and other groups opposing the measure.

“Moving it up three months will help us to be motivated,” Chavez said. “I think people are fired up again. By having it in August, we know that when we spend our money on media [advertising], we won’t be competing with statewide races. That’s an advantage for us.”

Turnout usually is lower for primary races than general elections, but Chavez said that will be an advantage as well – if working families get to the polls.

“It still comes down to getting your people out,” he said. “I compare it to what I tell our members who are running for things like a school board. You know there will be a low turnout, but it’s kind of low-hanging fruit. If we can get our folks out when others don’t, you’ll win. The same thing can happen here.”

Chavez said Local 124 is advertising during Kansas City Royals radio broadcasts urging voters to vote no. It also has several mailings planned within its jurisdiction and is encouraging members to find at least six people to get to the polls and vote no.

Local 1 advertises heavily in the St. Louis area as part of the Electrical Connection. It is urging voters at the end of each radio advertisement to vote no on Proposition A, Business Manager Frank Jacobs said.

Green said Proposition A needs to be defeated decisively. The larger the no vote, the less likely right-to-work proponents will bring the issue up again in the near future.

“I’m sure those special interest groups won’t go away very easily,” Green said., “Hopefully, a strong defeat of this measure will help.”

The deadline to register in Missouri for the August election is July 11. IBEW members can find instructions for registering here.