Will you work in a Right to Work state?

Will Right to Work be a life saver, adding new companies and new jobs, or will it be an anchor, dragging salaries and families down to the bottom?

Verify: To substantiate, to confirm, to prove the truth.

We all have ‘burning questions’ and now Five On Your Side will be helping a local viewer — and you — decide what the answer is.

And this week’s question is one that can make sparks fly.

On Monday, Governor Eric Greitens made Missouri the 28th state to ban mandatory union dues by signing the "Right to Work" bill into law. When “Right to Work” takes effect in Missouri on Aug. 28, will it help or hurt?

That’s what Victor Imgarten, a St. Charles business owner, wanted to know.

“I don’t see where it’s going to benefit people,” said Vic, who worries what it all means for his 8 non-union employees and for himself.

“We need people to have decent paying jobs. They might make less and then that’s less money they’ll have for the services I provide,” he said.

But for decades, supporters in Missouri have claimed RTW will bring in more new business from outside the state. But opponents said it will weaken unions which they said means wages will go down.

So, which is it? More jobs? Or less pay?

It soon became clear that the answer might be found ‘on the road’ and even, in another state.

So Vic and Verify hit the highway for a trip to Indiana.

Why?

Because in 2012, the Hoosier state made "Right to Work" the law, despite a long union history.

Our first stop: The Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 136 where Mike Falkenstein joined 42 years ago. He’s now the local’s business manager.

Verify: “Were you worried?”

Falkenstein: “Yes, definitely. We were worried.”

They had heard that there was going to be an influx of non-union workers from outside the state, workers that would eventually take over.

But instead, something interesting happened: The opposite.

Falkenstein said not only did their membership grow, but that there was “growth in apprentices.”

“We’re at 288 apprentices. We have never seen those numbers before.”

But Falkenstein said he doesn’t think that right-to-work had anything to do with it.

“Truth be known, the work was already coming to Indiana. The economy was already going up.”

And he said wages for his members have not dropped.

“I can only speak for the plumbers and steamfitters”, he said. “Your highly skilled trades like your operators, electricians…we’re not seeing it.”

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So, should Missouri worry?

Mike answers that, “some of them probably should be worried. But the skilled trades I don’t think they have anything to worry about.”

Vic was surprised: “Interesting…we don’t hear that at all.”

But Mike also cautioned, it might be different with another union.

So we placed some calls to the union representing some of Southern Indiana’s grocery workers.

Verify:  “Are you seeing your membership numbers decline?”

UFCW Rep: “Yes”

Caitlin Lally from UFCW Local 227 couldn’t give us a specific percentage drop, but she told us that since Right to Work legislation passed in Indiana, some members have stopped paying their dues. She worries if unions weaken, wages will drop next.

“When I look at our union members and people who work so hard every day to provide their family a better life,” said Lally, “it breaks my heart and it makes my blood pressure rise.”

Next, we dropped in on Greg Wathen of the Economic Development Coaltion of Southwest Indiana. His job is to help new companies coming to Indiana.

But even he said there are too many economic variables to give the law all the credit for any ‘wins’ they’ve had.

Verify: “Do you think RTW has brought more jobs to Indiana?”

Wathen:  “I don’t know if I can say it’s brought more jobs. It brought more opportunity for us to attract new investment.”

Wathen then summed up.

“Wish I could just say if you get ‘Right To Work’ then all of a sudden your life is going to change. It has not been as negative people say it is. And it certainly probably hasn’t been as positive as people thought it might be.”

“It’s been another piece of the puzzle,” he told us.

Which is on track with what Brad Kafka, vice chair of Polsinelli’s national Labor and Employment practice group told Verify. Kafka adds that comparing the effects of right-to-work from state to state can be difficult because there are “too many variables” in the economies of different states.

In the end, 170 miles, and a full day of interviews, were we any closer to knowing what Missouri might see from our new law?

“I didn’t expect to hear anything positive to be honest with you,” said Vic. “I'm worried about everybody. Everybody should get paid a fair wage.”

For more information about right-to-work legislation, see the links below:

The Location of Industry: Do States’ Policies Matter?

The Effect of State Policies on the Location of Manufacturing

EPI Briefing Paper299: The Compensation Penalty of “Right-to-Work” laws

(© 2017 KSDK)


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