On Monday, February 6, 2017, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed into law the highly controversial Right-To-Work Act (“the Act”), which makes Missouri the 28th right-to-work state in the nation. Pursuant to the Act, employers will be barred from requiring employees to become, remain, or refrain from becoming a member of a labor organization, or pay dues or other charges or fees required by labor organization members as a condition of employment, for agreements reached after August 28, 2017, the effective date of the Act. After August 28, it will be unlawful for employers and labor organizations to agree to a “union security clause” in a collective bargaining agreement because such a clause requires bargaining unit employees to establish and maintain union membership (which is ultimately restricted to the payment of dues and initiation frees) as a condition of employment.
The law contains certain exceptions of which employers should be aware. For example, the Act does not apply to any agreement between an employer and a labor organization entered into before the effective date of the Act, but shall apply to any such agreement upon its renewal, extension, amendment, or modification in any respect after the effective date of the Act. Moreover, the Act does not otherwise impact the terms, conditions of employment and wages set forth in an existing labor agreement. The Act does not allow employers to change the terms of the existing agreement or treat employees differently who decide not to pay dues to the union. Also, the Act will have no impact on employees covered by the Federal Railway Labor Act, Federal employers and employees, and employers and employees on exclusive federal enclaves.
Additionally, in the event an employer and/or a union violate the Act, it provides that any person that violates or directs another to violate the Act is guilty of a class C misdemeanor. Also, any person injured as a result of a violation of the Act is entitled to injunctive relief and may recover damages that result from the violation, including costs and reasonable attorney fees.
While proponents of right-to-work advocate that the passage of the Act will bring new industries and jobs to Missouri, opponents are gearing up for their next move. Union groups have indicated they intend to continue the fight against right-to-work by using a ballot measure to reverse the new law. In addition, the AFL-CIO already has filed several petitions with the Secretary of State’s office for a possible amendment to the state constitution that would allow unions to require workers to pay dues.
The passing of the Act initially may not have a great impact on union members, especially those who are subject to labor agreements in place before August 28. The Act will change the dynamic of labor organizations’ relationship with employees, however, as right-to-work provides employees with the necessary leverage to hold their exclusive bargaining representative accountable. It also allows employees to make the ultimate decision whether they believe their union has earned the payment of dues based on the type of representation the employees receive. While right-to-work’s impact on Missouri’s economy remains to be seen, it is clear the Act places more control in employees’ hands regarding whether they will pay for the representation provided by their union.
The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for over sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.