The defeat of Missouri’s anti-union “right-to-work” law is likely to carry national repercussions. These unions’ huge success in a largely red state that Trump won with 54% suggests that voters support and believe in the value of unions.
The right-to-work law was repealed by an overwhelming 67% to 33% margin. Since only 7.5% of Missourians are represented by unions, it’s clear the general population of the state sees the benefit of them. It mirrors the increasing favorability of unions in national polling. This sudden burst of public opinion in favor certainly offers hope that Iowa Democrats’ pro-union agenda will appeal to a broad spectrum of mid-term voters.
The Missouri unions waged an intense and expensive battle to win public support for opposition to the Republican right-to-work law. They knocked on 500,000 doors, collected 300,000 signatures and union-backed groups spent $15 million in order to get it on the ballot and get it repealed. They framed their message to voters as a choice between workers and greedy billionaires. They pointed to research showing significantly higher average pay for union workers vs. non-union. They also linked stagnant wage gains and increased poverty associated with a weakened union movement.
Here in Iowa, restoring public unions’ rights to collective bargaining is a critical campaign issue for Democrats. Public Policy Polling shows, “three in five voters said the state should be required to negotiate with public employees over workplace benefits and safety policies.”
Democrat Fred Hubbell has made restoring public sector employees’ collective bargaining rights a key part of his campaign for governor. He has characterized Reynolds support for the repeal of Iowa’s public sector collective bargaining law as an “unprecedented, brazenly partisan action.”
“Public sector workers across our state provide invaluable services that enable Iowa to be successful, yet Republican leaders are determined to further undermine their well-being by stripping fundamental union rights,” Hubbell has said. “As governor, I will work tirelessly to reverse this disastrous law and restore collective bargaining. Rather than punishing Iowans for serving their state, we must respect and value working families, empowering them with the support and guaranteed benefits they’ve worked hard for.”
A deeper dive into the public vote in Missouri and the apparent Iowa polling in support of public unions match an improving trend for unions nationwide. According to the Pew Charitable Center, national public support for unions is improving. Over half of Americans believe that the decline in union membership since the 1950’s has had a negative effect.
The total U.S. percentage of wage and salaried workers belonging to labor unions has fallen from 20.1% in 1983 to 10.7% in 2017. Unionization peaked in 1954 at 34% according to the Congressional Research Center.
Likewise, Americans’ favorable view of unions peaked in the 1950s at nearly 75%. Today, according to recent Gallup polling, 61% of Americans have a positive view of unions. That’s an increase of 5% from last year and the highest favorable rating since 2003. More importantly, in the 18-34 age category 66% are in favor of unions. It’s crucial that younger Americans see the value of unions.
The Missouri vote suggests many Independents and Republicans voted for the union position as well. The same national Gallup poll reported that 42% of Republicans currently favor unions, an increase from just 26% in 2011.
Additional positive news from a recent MIT study on unions suggests more workers are receptive to union organizing. In the MIT survey, more than half of non-union, non-managerial workers would support unionization of their workplace.
The Missouri vote suggests fighting for increased union membership and influence is not only a winning formula for Democrats but essential to increasing wages and benefits for all Iowans. Democrats are often asked what they stand for? They should proudly proclaim they stand with union workers.
by Rick Smith