By Eliza Steffen
Missouri voters’ repeal of a right-to-work law was the highest-profile result of a dozen ballot measures decided during the primary season. The remaining ballot issues will be on general election ballots in November.
Since January, 12 ballot measures have been voted on, 11 on primary election dates. On a special election Jan. 23, Oregon voters approved Measure 101, raising taxes on hospitals and health insurance companies to fund the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), the state’s version of Medicaid. Next came Ohio's Issue 1 on May 8, a successful congressional redistricting amendment.
Seven of the 11 primary measures were legislative referendums, with two citizen initiatives and two popular referendums. Eight have passed, and three failed.
- The District of Columbia passed an initiative to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers on June 19. A week later, Oklahoma passed State Question 788, an initiative legalizing medical marijuana and is now in the process of putting the measure into effect.
- Maine voters repealed Question 1 through popular referendum, legislation which would have delayed the implementation of ranked choice voting to December 2021.
- Five of the legislative referendums were in California and covered issues from cap-and-trade to the effective date of ballot measures to bonds.
- Finally, a failed constitutional amendment in Wisconsin would have eliminated the role of state treasurer.
On Aug. 7, Missouri voters rejected right-to-work legislation by repealing the popular referendum measure Proposition A by a margin of 67.5 percent to 32.5 percent. After Senate Bill 19 was signed into law by Governor Eric Greitens last year, unions swiftly collected the signatures of more than 300,000 voters, meeting state petition requirements of 5 percent of voters in two-thirds of Missouri’s congressional districts.
If the measure had not been repealed, Missouri would have become the 29th state to enact right-to-work laws that restrict the power of unions and prevent mandatory membership in labor organizations because they represent all employees in collective bargaining. Like most right-to-work legislation, it banned union membership as a condition of employment as well as prohibiting required fair-share dues.
Although some have been touting Proposition A as the first time a right-to-work law has been successfully repealed through the popular referendum process, similar laws have been on the ballot in recent years. Most have been in the form of a legislative referendum, when state lawmakers refer a measure to voters for their approval, and constitutional amendments, which require a popular vote in every state but Delaware.
In 2016, a legislative referendum in Virginia to add right-to-work to the constitution failed, but nearly the same measure passed in Alabama that year, making it the ninth state to include right-to-work laws in its constitution. The most recent popular referendum measure was in 2011, when Ohio's Issue 2 was repealed 62 to 38 percent. The law had enacted right-to-work restrictions for public sector employees, namely preventing unions from charging fair share dues to those who opt out. The legislation was heavily supported by Governor John Kasich.
In 2001, Oklahoma added its right to work law to the constitution with 54.2 percent of the vote. Before then, no right-to-work measures (citizen initiative or referendum) had appeared on state ballots since 1978, when 60 percent of voters rejected an initiated constitutional amendment in Missouri.
Looking to 2020, right-to-work will likely be back on the ballot. In late January 2018, Ohio Representatives John Becker and Craig Riedel introduced a package of six constitutional amendments addressing right-to-work issues. The proposed laws include eliminating required fair share dues (common for right-to-work laws), forbidding government entities from requiring contractors to have project labor agreements and requiring the annual recertification of unions.
The two legislators are hoping that their measures will fare better with voters than in 2011, with Reidel saying, "We're not legislating any bills here. ... We're bringing this to the ballot and we want the citizens of Ohio to vote on this so once and for all, we'll get this settled.” To appear on the November 2020 ballot as an amendment, all six bills must pass both legislative chambers with a three-fifths majority—a majority that Republicans currently hold.
For now, we’ll have to wait until this November, when more than 140 ballot measures will be decided across 37 states.
Eliza Steffen is an intern in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting program.