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Setback in Missouri Won't Stop Worker Freedom Momentum

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to beat his chest on Big Labor’s victory in striking down right-to-work legislation in Missouri. It was an overwhelming victory, certainly, with voters striking down the ballot measure by a 2-1 margin.

Trumka called the win an “incredible display of the labor movement’s capacity to win change.” Going on to say that “Tuesday’s victory was a high point in a defining year for workers. With this win under our belt, we’re setting our sights on November.”

Mr. Trumka’s op-ed sounds more like a hot-take than an informed opinion. It was not that long ago that Big Labor poured millions of dollars to win an election in Missouri and lost. As The Wall Street Journal editorial team notes:

In 2016 unions spent some $12 million to support a Missouri Democratic gubernatorial candidate who vowed to veto right-to-work legislation that lets workers decide if they want to join a union. That effort failed, and then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed it into law his first month in office.

In response to that defeat, labor unions doubled-down on political spending. Big Labor outspent pro-right-to-work interests by a 5-1 margin. In total, unions poured more than $15 million to repeal right-to-work in Missouri.

Of course, by repealing right-to-work unions keep their power to coerce workers to pay for union services they do not want. It was worth every penny for unions to keep this outrageous privilege. Unions knew, if they won, this political investment would pay dividends. The ability to collect compulsory dues will allow unions to recoup their spending against right-to-work and more.

A recent survey of 2,000 educators illustrates why it is essential for labor unions to keep the power to compel payments from workers. Of those surveyed, only 39 percent said “I agree with the way the union spends my money.” Seemingly, a good portion of these workers would stop paying fees if given the choice.

Again, this is why right-to-work laws are abhorrent to the labor movement. Union bosses do not want to be held accountable to membership. As I recently wrote, right-to-work laws hold “unions accountable to their own members. Under right-to-work, if a worker does not think the union is earning its keep, that person can simply opt-out of paying.”

Union bosses, like Mr. Trumka, do not want workers to hold them accountable for how they spend dues money. They want to throw big money behind whatever politicians support their interests, not necessarily the interests of the workers they represent. Union political contributions highlight this disconnect. In The Columbus Dispatch, I wrote “In 2016 election cycle, labor unions sent 88 percent of their huge war chest to Democrats. That would be fine if 88 percent, or somewhere near that figure, supported a progressive agenda, but that is just not the case. Exit polls from the 2016 campaign show 43 percent of union households voted Republican.”

Despite the setback in Missouri, worker freedom is on a roll. Since 2012, five states have passed right-to-work laws, some of which were in previous union strongholds. And just this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court made all of public-sector employment essentially right-to-work.

Despite Trumka’s view that the win in Missouri is an illustration of union’s ability to “win change,” union membership rates are at all-time lows.

Instead of reflecting on why workers are fleeing unions, Big Labor is ramping up its political machine. This is par for the course, just not a fruitful one.