By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – A Citizens Referendum petition to prevent Missouri’s newly signed “right-to-work” law and overturn the Missouri Legislature's action in passing the anti-worker legislation will proceed despite a judge’s biased ruling in recent weeks on a separate initiative seeking a Constitutional amendment that would ban “right-to-work” in Missouri.
“Don’t confuse this first-round opinion with anything having to do with our Citizens Referendum for a Citizens Veto on the current ‘right-to-work’ law passed by the Missouri Legislature and signed by the Governor,” said Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis. “This ruling is germane only to the 10 lawsuits filed by the National Right to Work Committee to try and block our effort.”
At issue for the Constitutional amendment is a ruling issued by Republican Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem in a case filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation challenging a series of petitions filed by the Missouri AFL-CIO seeking to put the wrong-headed policy to a public vote.
Beetem, who is supposed to be impartial, found that the wording of a summary for the proposed Constitutional ballot measure was not accurate and he rewrote it to ask voters if they want to “force” employees to make payments to labor unions as a condition of employment.
Again, the ruling affects the Constitutional amendment initiative only and does not impact the Citizens Referendum seeking to overturn the legislature’s action approving “right-to-work.”
Still, Louis said the Missouri AFL-CIO will appeal the ruling, and he expressed confidence that an appellate court would find that Beetem erred in his ruling and that the judgement would be overturned.
“We feel an appeal is necessary and very winnable,” Louis said.
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Meanwhile, the Missouri AFL-CIO and its affiliate unions are preparing to circulate a Citizens Referendum petition to stop so-called “right-to-work” (for less) from becoming law.
The petition effort is not affected by Beetem’s ruling.
Key to launching the petition effort is obtaining final approval for the referendum’s language from Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft, who is playing games with the approval process in an effort to slow down the campaign’s momentum. Ashcroft finally approved the referendum on March 28.
The campaign must turn in more than 160,000 valid signatures of registered voters by Aug. 25 to halt implementation of the law on Aug. 28.
If the petition campaign is successful, implementation of so-called “right-to-work” would be put on hold until Missouri voters have a chance to decide the measure in 2018.
The initiative effort to place a Constitutional amendment on the ballot is a separate issue.
Following is summary of what has happened in that effort:
• Former Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander approved summaries of the initiatives for a Constitutional amendment on his last day in office in January before the Republican Secretary of State Ashcroft took over.
• Republican Governor Eric Greitens signed “right-to-work” into law on Feb. 6. It is set to take effect Aug. 28.
• Beetem, ruling in late March, said the summaries approved by Kander lacked the context to show that the main effect of the initiative would be repealing “right-to-work” and, in a blatant example of judicial overreach, rewrote the ballot summary to favor “right-to-work.”
Under the language approved by Kander, one petition summary would have asked voters if the Missouri Constitution should be amended to “prohibit impairing, restricting or limiting the ability of employees to negotiate, enter into and enforce certain collectively bargained agreements with an employer.”
Beetem rewrote the same petition to ask if residents wanted to amend the Constitution “to remove the right to choose whether or not to join a union (“right-to-work”) and allow union representatives to force an employee to make payments to the union as a condition of employment.”
Louis called the ruling “ludicrous.”