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The pay gap between Missouri and Illinois state workers underscores the union difference

The Mississippi River separates Missouri from Illinois. (Photo credit: Art Wager/Getty Images)
The pay gap between Missouri and Illinois state workers underscores the union difference
By AFSCME Staff ·

Illinois and Missouri share a 361-mile border – comprised entirely of the Mississippi River. On the eastern side, in Illinois, state workers have a strong union voice – through AFSCME Council 31 – and robust collective bargaining rights. On the western side, in Missouri, anti-worker politicians have restricted workers’ rights and voices in the workplace.

And that has led to a stark illustration of the union difference.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last month that “at least 200 Missouri residents cross the Mississippi River each day to work in Illinois government facilities where they can make a significantly larger paycheck for doing almost exactly the same job.”

Despite AFSCME members in St. Louis, Kansas City, Jefferson, and in towns and counties across Missouri fighting for a higher minimum wage and stronger union rights, Missouri laws make organizing a steep uphill battle.

A 2016 study released by former Gov. Jay Nixon showed that Missouri state workers earn an average of $39,682. In Illinois? The average salary is $65,343, according to the newspaper.

Each worker quoted by the Post-Dispatch pointed to the same cause – the union difference.

Hursel King said he was earning $26,000 a year as a state correctional officer in Missouri until 2011, when he was hired for a similar post in Illinois that paid $45,000. King, treasurer of AFSCME Local 1175 (Council 31), said the pay difference is the key reason why he commutes 45 miles from his Missouri home to Illinois.

“Obviously the union makes a big difference,” King told the Post-Dispatch.

Scott Lankford, a Missouri resident and a clerical worker with the Illinois Department of Human Services, said that on top of the better pay, “he can count on regular salary increases in Illinois based on the union contract,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Watch this Council 31 video, which crystallizes the Post-Dispatch article.

The pay gap between Missouri state workers – who lack a strong voice on the job due to anti-worker laws in the state – and their Illinois counterparts underscores the difference a strong union negotiating collectively makes.

Not only do union members earn more, they have better health care coverage and higher retirement security compared to nonunion workers. By standing together, they can negotiate for better wages and benefits. Workers also gain respect for the work they do and are better protected on the job by being in a union. And that’s just scratching the surface.

As we commemorate Black History Month, let’s remember that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted workers to join labor unions. He once said, “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.” Where did King make that observation? Springfield, Illinois.

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