Citizen Referendum Puts Missouri “Right-to-Work” on Hold

September 2017

In February of this year, Lewis Rice published a report on Missouri's becoming the nation’s 28th “right-to-work” state. Under federal law, employers and unions can negotiate collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) to include “union security clauses,” which compel employees to join the union and pay dues as a condition of employment. But federal law also permits states to pass right-to-work laws that effectively nullify these clauses. SB 19, passed by the Missouri General Assembly on February 2, 2017 and signed into law by Governor Eric Greitens, did precisely that, fulfilling one of Governor Greitens’s campaign promises.

As with most legislation passed by the General Assembly, including a major overhaul of state workplace discrimination laws, the provisions of SB 19 were to go into effect on August 28. However, on August 18, nearly 311,000 signatures were delivered to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, aimed at repealing SB 19 through the referendum process. Missouri is one of 25 states that allows for a popular (or "citizen") referendum, wherein voters can seek the repeal of a recent legislative act. Under the Missouri Constitution, voters can place referendum petitions on the ballot if they provide a sufficient number of signatures to the Secretary of State within 90 days of the adjournment of the General Assembly session in which the legislation passed. 

Though the signatures will need to be certified, any challenge on this ground is unlikely to prevail, as supporters of the referendum delivered triple the number of signatures necessary to place it on the November 2018 ballot. In the interim, the provisions of SB 19 are placed on hold, maintaining Missouri’s historical status as a non-right-to-work state.

Alongside this effort, several initiative petitions related to right-to-work are being circulated and litigated in Missouri courts. If successfully placed on a ballot and approved by the voters, these petitions would amend the Missouri Constitution to nullify any right-to-work laws then in effect and prevent any future right-to-work bills from being passed in Missouri.

The combination of these actions has the potential to create confusion for employers, unions, and employees over whether compulsory union membership will be allowed in Missouri. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a Lewis Rice Labor and Employment attorney.