The health of Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws took another blow recently, when the voter referendum meant to overturn the new right-to-work law took a setback in court on a procedural issue. Now, union leaders who want to protect workers’ interests will have their work cut out for them to challenge the new law, which is set to go into effect in August.
Missouri’s Right-to-Work Law
Back on February 6, 2017, Governor Eric Greitens signed a new “right-to-work” bill into law, making Missouri the 28th state to have one.
These laws do two things: They prohibit employment contracts from forcing an employee to pay union fees if they take the job, and they force unions to represent all workers, including those that aren’t paying dues. The practical effect is to weaken unions by giving workers the option of benefitting from the union without paying for it. Unions then have to represent more people, while losing much of their income.
As soon as Gov. Greitens signed the right-to-work law, unions in Missouri initiated the referendum process. If they attained approximately 90,000 signatures against the right-to-work law before it went into effect on August 28th, the referendum would appear on the ballot in 2018 and everyone in Missouri would get to vote for or against it.
Voter Referendum Suffers Setback
This voter referendum process, however, took a significant setback this past week when a court in St. Louis decided that it was procedurally unsound.
Part of the voter referendum process requires the people supporting the referendum to write a short summary of the proposed law. This summary, rather than the law in its entirety, appears on the ballot if enough signatures are gathered. Because this summary is often the only thing voters see before deciding whether to vote for the referendum or not, it often comes under intense scrutiny.
That scrutiny culminated in a lawsuit, which ended on June 22 with the judge deciding that the summary, written by the unions pushing for the referendum to overturn the right-to-work law, was “unfair and insufficient” because it had grammatical ambiguities in it that could, the court decided, confuse voters. Chief among these ambiguities, according to the court, was the fact that the summary made it seem like a “yes” vote would pass a law when, in reality, it would veto one. Another ambiguity that the court noted was the informal beginning of the referendum, “Do the people of the state of Missouri want…” Instead, the court insisted that the proper opening was, “Shall the people of the state of Missouri…”
As a result, the judge took it upon himself to rewrite the summary.
Impact of Court’s Ruling
The impact of the court’s ruling against the referendum is larger than it might seem. By rewriting the summary, the court took control of how voters would be presented with the referendum in the voter’s booth, preventing the unions proposing the referendum from framing the issue the way they want to. However, more importantly, the ruling throws into doubt whether the signatures that have already been collected still count. Union leaders insist that they do, but will appeal the court’s ruling, anyway.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at the Smith Law Office
Overturning the new right-to-work bill would be a huge step towards protecting Missouri’s workers’ compensation scheme, so the personal injury attorneys at the Smith Law Office are watching these developments closely.
If you’ve suffered a workplace injury, contact us online or call our law office at (816) 875-9373 for legal representation.