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World Labor gains victory as Missouri voters reject anti-union law

The Supreme Court in June struck down such fees for public-sector employees, achieving a long-standing goal of conservative groups and overruling a four-decade precedent.

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After a succession of political setbacks in onetime strongholds and a landmark defeat in the Supreme Court, organized labor has notched a hard-won victory as Missouri voters overrode a legislative move to curb union power.

A measure on the ballot Tuesday asked voters to pass judgment on a prospective law barring private-sector unions from collecting mandatory fees from workers who choose not to become members. The law was rejected by a2-1ratio.

The Supreme Court in June struck down such fees for public-sector employees, achieving a long-standing goal of conservative groups and overruling a four-decade precedent.

Labor leaders argued that the rare opportunity for voters to weigh in directly on a so-called right-to-work measure — which several states have passed in recent years — revealed how little public support the policy has, at least once voters get beyond the anodyne branding.

“It shows how out of touch those institutions are,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “How out of touch the Republican legislature in Missouri is, how out of touch the Supreme Court is.”

But Jake Rosenfeld, a sociologist who studies unions at Washington University in St. Louis, cautioned against overstating the victory. A mere 8.7 percent of workers in Missouri were union members last year, below the national average and down from more than 13 percent a decade and a half ago.

“A ‘win’ just returns the situation to the status quo,” Rosenfeld said by email, although he acknowledged that it was “a huge morale boost to a beleaguered movement.”

The victory in Missouri aligns with other tentative signs of a labor revival. Among them are polls showing rising popular support for unions and an uptick in membership in teachers unions.

But it was not immediately clear that the forces driving the showing for labor in Missouri could be reproduced elsewhere.

“There’s a big difference between overturning the law itself and defeating legislators who supported it,” said Jonathon Prouty, a Missouri political consultant and former executive director of the state’s Republican Party.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Noam Scheiber © 2018 The New York Times

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