The fight over right to work in Missouri may not be over despite the Legislature's approval this year — but it could be a long fight if proponents of a repeal effort have their way.
Unions statewide, including in Jefferson City, held about 50 petition drives Saturday, collecting signatures to force a referendum onto the November 2018 ballot that could kill Missouri's new right-to-work law before it ever takes effect. To get the referendum on the ballot, petitioners must gather about 90,000 signatures before Aug. 28. If that happens, the law won't take effect until Missourians vote on the measure next November.
Mid-Missouri petition drives were set to take place in Jefferson City, Fulton, California, Columbia, West Plains, Centrailia and Palmyra on Saturday. Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft signed off on the petition in February, allowing opponents of the new law to start gathering signatures.
Laura Swinford, communications director for union advocacy group We Are Missouri, said the petition campaign is going well so far.
"Since this petition was approved for circulation by the Secretary of State's Office, we have had volunteers out gathering signatures," Swinford said. "Time is of the essence. We've a lot of energized folks who are excited at the idea to have their own say on this bill that affects so many families."
Gov. Eric Greitens signed a bill into law in February making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state. That law allows unions to continue representing workers but allows employees to opt out of paying union dues.
Greitens, a Republican, made right to work a signature campaign issue and quickly delivered on his promise to make Missouri a right-to-work state, arguing during his campaign that right to work would promote economic growth and increase wages.
Former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, previously vetoed several attempts to pass similar laws.
At an abandoned warehouse in Springfield, where Greitens held one of several signings of the bill in February, the governor told the Springfield News-Leader the bill was about choice.
"It simply says that every worker should have the choice about whether or not they want to join a union," Greitens told the News-Leader. "They should have the choice. And if they choose not to join, they can't be forced out of their job."
To get the referendum on the ballot, 5 percent of registered voters in at least six of Missouri's eight congressional districts must sign the petition, according to Ashcroft's office. That's about 90,000 signatures the petitioners need statewide.
If the petition gets enough signatures to make it on the ballot, the law will not take effect until Missourians vote on the issue in the Nov. 6, 2018, general election.
In that case, if voters vote "yes, " right to work would become law. If voters vote "no," it would not.
Greitens signed the bill Feb. 6. Missouri AFL-CIO President Michael Louis filed the petition Feb. 21.
Three lawsuits have been filed questioning proposed ballot initiatives filed with Ashcroft's office to amended the state Constitution and effectively outlaw right-to-work laws. The suits argued the proposed questions were misleading under state law.
All three lawsuits have now been lumped into one case. Louis is a defendant in that case because his office filed the proposed initiatives in question. The next hearing for that case is scheduled Monday afternoon.