Jefferson City – Steve Tilley is no stranger to the right-to-work fight.
Tilley, the former Republican speaker of the Missouri House, made news, and dashed the hopes of extremists within his own party, last year when he said publicly that he viewed the issue as too divisive and potentially destructive to Missouri Republicans. He also discounted the arguments of right-to-work advocates who said that such a law would create jobs.
“I think there are a lot of things we can do in this state that business and labor can agree on,” Tilley said at the time.
Now an influential lobbyist in the state Capitol, Tilley has been hired by the Missouri AFL-CIO to help fight this session’s right-to-work (for less) efforts of his successor, Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka), who has made passing anti-worker union-busting right-to-work (for less) a priority in this session.
Tilley, who started his lobbying firm soon after leaving the House in 2012, was retained by the AFL-CIO along with powerful Jefferson City lobbyist John Bardgett as part of a nine-member lobbying team focused on defeating the anti-worker effort.
“The Missouri AFL-CIO has always enjoyed a good working relationship with Steve Tilley, from his time on the House floor to his service as Speaker of the House,” said Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO.
“His willingness to support Missouri’s working families and look for bipartisan solutions to create jobs in our state has earned our respect,” Louis said. “Now we look forward to looking forward with Steve and his team. It is time for this Legislature to start focusing their attention on real priorities like job creation instead of unnecessary and unfair right-to-work bills.”
Several bills have been filed this legislative session to put right-to-work into effect. They include HB 1053, sponsored by Rep. Donna Lichteneger (R-Jackson); HB 1094, sponsored by Rep. Bill Lant (R-Pineville); HB 1095, sponsored by Rep. Lant; HB 1099, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield); and HB 1143, sponsored by Rep. Bill White (R-Joplin).
At least one of the proposals would put the matter before voters this fall, rather than risking an almost certain veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
Voters defeated a 1978 ballot proposal to make Missouri a right-to-work (for less) state, but union density in Missouri is lower now, and many younger members – along with their friends and family – have no memory of that historic fight.
Missouri labor leaders became concerned when Jones and his allies held a House hearing on right-to-work (for less) during the first week of this legislative session, signaling that they would push for an early floor vote.
The assumption is that Tilley and his team will be charged with delaying a House vote or, at minimum, tamping down House support.
Jones would need 109 House votes to override the Governor’s veto. A ballot referendum would not need to go to the Governor.
Although some form of right-to-work (for less) could pass out of the House. Its chances in the Senate are uncertain.
Senate President Pro Tem Steve Dempsey (R-St. Charles) has said right-to-work (for less) is not among that chamber's top priorities. Senate Democratic leader Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) already has said her camp will likely filibuster the issue should it get onto the Senate floor.
“There are so many things we can do for this state to make it a better place to work and live, that both labor and business can agree on,” Tilley told PoliticMO’s Eli Yokley. “There is no reason to start that discussion with the most divisive issue possible.”
(Jo Mannies of St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon and Eli Yokley of PoliticMO contributed to this report.)