Anti-union RTW legislation advances in Missouri House

OPPONENTS of so-called “right-to-work” legislation in Missouri make their opinions known before the start of last week’s hearing before the House Economic Development Committee. – Labor Tribune photo

Republicans block attempt to put the measure before voters

Jefferson City – Missouri legislators promised to fast-track so-called “right-to-work” this session and they wasted no time this week – hearing five versions of the anti-union, anti-worker legislation before the House Economic Development Committee, which bundled them into one bill that is expected to be heard in the full House next week.

The committee heard the bills Tuesday (Jan. 10) in a hearing room crammed to standing-room-only with dozens of union members, workers and retirees, many of them holding signs calling for a public vote on the issue. The committee heard testimony for three-and-a-half hours then, reconvened the next day to consolidate the measures under one bill – House Committee Substitute (HCS) HBs 91, 42, 131, 265 & 314 – and send it to the Rules Committee, which quickly voted it out to the House.

The measure is on the House calendar for perfection this coming Tuesday (Jan. 17) and was expected to be heard on the floor Wednesday morning (Jan. 18).

Representative Doug Beck (D-Affton), a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, tried to add a requirement that the “right-to-work” measure get voter approval, something Democrats have pushed for given the divisiveness of the issue and its impact on unions and their members.

“This one issue will have a measured consequence on the livelihoods of so many Missourians, it is appropriate that this issue be decided at the ballot box, and not by politicians in Jefferson City,” Beck said.

The Republican-led committee voted his proposal down nine-to-four along party lines.

The Senate General Laws Committee heard a separate “right-to-work” measure (SB 19) Jan. 11 but took no immediate action on the legislation.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) said Republicans have long opposed putting “right-to-work” before voters, who defeated the issue when it last went on the ballot in 1978. In passing a “right-to-work” bill in 2015, supporters could have avoided a veto by then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, by putting the measure on the ballot, but they opted not to and the veto was upheld, Beatty said. New Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, has said he will sign “right-to-work” into law.

Even without a referendum clause in the legislation, Missouri Labor leaders are still fighting to give voters a chance to weigh in.

Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis has filed several versions of an initiative petition that would amend the state constitution to protect union negotiating rights.

If approved by voters, the initiative petition would essentially reverse any “right-to-work” law passed this session by giving employers and employees the “unalienable” right to negotiate contracts that would require workers to pay fees covering the costs of union representation.

Outgoing Secretary of State Jason Kander approved for circulation 10 different versions of the initiative-petition proposal before leaving office. Louis says Labor leaders will soon decide which one to circulate.

Louis testified against the “right-to-work” measures in the House and Senate committee hearings.

“In my opinion this is nothing but government overreach,” Louis said told members of the House committee. “Right now, an employer and their employees have a right whether or not to negotiate a union security clause in their contract. If the employer doesn’t want it, he does not have to give it in the offer to the employees. Employers who want it have it; employers who don’t want it don’t have it. Why do they need your overreach to tell them when a governor newly elected just said ‘We need to stand down and let business do their business?’

“Right now they’ve got the right to negotiate it or not,” Louis told the committee. “You’re taking away the right to negotiate it if they want to.”

(Read more in the Jan. 19 issue of the Labor Tribune print edition.)

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