JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster and Republican former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens will face off Nov. 8 in Missouri’s gubernatorial election. The Associated Press asked the candidates by phone about several workforce issues. Here’s how they responded:
Should Missouri adopt a right-to-work law, which would prohibit workplace contracts with mandatory union fees?
KOSTER: “I am against right-to-work for Missouri. There are a lot of wealthy Missourians who will, from time to time, come up to me and advocate that Missouri would be a better state if people who are paid by the hour earned less money. But when I talk to the woman who stocks the shelves at my grocery store, who makes $11 an hour, she tells me that if her wage was to fall to $9.50 an hour, it would be harder to put food on her family’s table.
“The reality is, no matter how you slice the data, (workers in) right-to-work states earn approximately 15 percent less in wages than non-right-to-work states. I am running for governor in order to be a fighter for everyday Missourians and not someone who is fighting against everyday Missourians. My job is to help this state see incomes rise, whether that be through pushing against right-to-work, advocating for an increase in the minimum wage or expanding health care in our state.”
GREITENS: “My mission as governor is that we have more jobs and higher pay here in the state of Missouri, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that we get that resolved, and that includes signing right-to-work legislation. Look, right-to-work is really simple. It says that every worker in the state of Missouri should have the freedom to work without being forced to pay dues to a political organization that they might disagree with.
“The statistics are clear that right-to-work leads to more jobs and higher pay. Over the course of the last decade, Bureau of Labor statistics show that right-to-work states have 63 percent higher job growth. Two of our Midwestern states, Indiana and Michigan, that both recently signed right-to-work have been leading the country in new factory job growth. So I’m going to sign right-to-work because it leads to more jobs and higher pay for the people of Missouri.”
Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.65 an hour and is adjusted annually based on inflation. Some states have set higher minimum wages, such as $10 or $15 an hour. Should Missouri raise its minimum wage? And if so, to what?
KOSTER: “I’m just doing the math in my head, but if someone makes the minimum wage — $7.65 an hour — I believe that full-time employment will pay them approximately $15,500 to $16,000 per year. At that wage, they are approximately $4,500 beneath the poverty rate for a parent of two children. I believe that if a Missourian gets up and goes to work every day for a full year, they should not live in poverty. I would favor raising the minimum wage in the state of Missouri to between $10 and $11. This would in all likelihood require a vote of the people, so it would be something that would be put before the citizens of our state.
“I would also favor an apprentice wage for individuals 16 to 20 years old. I would also be willing to consider an apprentice wage for individuals who haven’t finished high school up to the age of 22 or 24 in order to encourage young people who are able to finish their educations to in fact finish high school. Finally, I would think that any adjustment in the minimum wage in the state would have to be phased in over a period of approximately five years.”
GREITENS: “We need leaders in government, and my intention as governor is to lift people out of poverty. If we are going to lift people out of poverty, we have to create an economic environment with more jobs and jobs with higher pay. It’s been very clear when you look across the country that what we want is to help people into the workforce. Ninety-eight percent of people who are working full-time are above the poverty line. When you artificially inflate the minimum wage, oftentimes what it does is actually hurt some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society because it makes it harder for them to actually find jobs and it reduces employment opportunities.
“I think what we need to do in Missouri is we need to reform welfare, and we also need to look at things like an earned income tax credit so that we can actually reward work. We want to have a system in Missouri where it always pays to work, and where people who work more get paid more. Right now we have a system that’s been designed by career politicians that actually punishes a lot of poor people when they seek to work more. And what we need to do instead is to build a thriving economy here in the state of Missouri rooted in the core values of hard work and personal responsibility.”
The Missouri Supreme Court this summer struck down a measure that had reduced the maximum duration of unemployment benefits from 20 to 13 weeks, which was one of the shortest periods nationally. The ruling was based on a procedural flaw by lawmakers. Would you support efforts in 2017 to reinstate a similar law that provides fewer weeks of benefits when the state’s unemployment rate is lower?
KOSTER: “You recall that it was my responsibility to defend that piece of legislation in the Missouri Supreme Court, which I did. We are attempting to strike a balance in the state of Missouri whereby we are caring for our citizens on the one hand but also creating a positive business climate relative to other states in the nation on the other hand. Without prejudging the question, I would be willing to sit down with legislative leaders in both chambers — specifically Sen. Mike Kehoe, who sponsored the legislation last year — and try to work out an unemployment insurance coverage for our state that accomplishes both goals.”
GREITENS: “What I’m going to do as governor is lead a comprehensive effort to reform the welfare system. We’re also going to lead a comprehensive effort to make sure that we create easy on ramps for people into the workforce. Right now we have a situation in the state of Missouri where, until very recently, Missouri was ranked 50th out of all 50 states in our ability to move people off of welfare to work. When I served as the founder and CEO of The Mission Continues, I worked with veterans all over the country, many of whom had found themselves on food stamps, on welfare, found themselves on unemployment. We helped them off. We helped them to get quality private-sector jobs. We helped them to start to run their own businesses. We have to build a comprehensive system that looks at all of these programs, so that we create a ladder out of poverty.”