Senior Staff Reporter
Jefferson City – The Missouri General Assembly ramped up its war on labor last week with the Missouri House and Senate passing paycheck deception bills and the Missouri House passing its second anti-prevailing wage measure prior to this week’s spring recess.
Passage of the anti-union, anti-worker measures raises the stakes for unions as the General Assembly heads into the second half of this session.
"Extremists in the Missouri legislature passed paycheck deception bills and attacks on prevailing wage protections – just in time to head out for vacation,” said Mike Louis, Secretary Treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “Along with so-called 'Right to Work,' these bills are part of an organized national effort to destroy unions and reward CEOs and special interest groups at the expense of middle class workers.
"Missouri teachers, construction workers, nurses, bus drivers, police officers and other workers deserve better than divisive attacks,” Louis said. “The time would have been far better spent creating jobs and strengthening our infrastructure. When our elected officials get back to work, it is time they focus on real priorities like good jobs."
Senate Bill 29, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown (R-Rolla), would require that public-employee unions and teachers groups obtain annual written permission from their members before any dues could be automatically deducted from their paychecks.
“It’s a really, really bad bill,” Sen. Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City) said. “The onus would always be on the worker to go through all these steps, which is frustrating because we’re treating public employees different than we would any other member of an association.
“When people tell you this isn’t about the money, it’s always about the money,” McKenna said, adding that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity (a corporate front group founded and funded by billionaire industrialist David Koch) have been pushing nearly identical measures in state legislatures across the country. “They’re going across the country with these cookie cutter looking bills to undermine the political process. They’re wanting to weed away groups that stand up for the working class.”
The House version of the proposal – House Bill 64, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) – would require all unions and teachers groups – with the exception of police and firefighters – to get written permission each year from their members before donations for political spending could be automatically deducted from their paychecks.
Proponents of the measures say they are trying to “protect workers.”
But State Sen. Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors), a retired member of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 1, said “I haven’t heard from any workers that want to be protected. I haven’t heard from anybody that doesn’t feel like they aren’t protected now.
“I’m grateful that I belong to a good, strong union,” Walsh said. “I just hope that they don’t destroy everything that people have worked for, for 100 years, to get us to this point.”
On prevailing wage, the House approved a measure changing the calculation in rural areas. Currently, the prevailing wage for a given trade is based on voluntary surveys collected and submitted by contractors on a project.
House Bill 409, sponsored by State Rep. Warren Love (R-Osceola), would replace those figures with an average weekly statewide wage compiled by the state labor department.
Late last month the House passed another anti-prevailing wage measure – House Bill 34, sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsney (R-Bethany) – which would exempt construction and maintenance work done for certain school districts from the prevailing wage rate requirement upon the school board's approval.
House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis), a member of IBEW Local 1, said the prevailing wage ensures all bidders are on a level playing field and prevents Missouri contractors from being undercut by migrant contractors from other states who usually bring their own workers with them and pay them in cash to avoid paying state and federal taxes, social security, workers’ compensation and unemployment premiums. Hummel called Guernsey's measure the "No Foreign Worker Left Behind Act" and said it would lower the standard of living in the state by creating an incentive to hire out-of-state workers at a lower rate.