Emboldened by election, legislators renew their attack on workers
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – The state legislature is again being asked to consider voting to make Missouri the 25th right-to-work state.
The House Workforce Standards and Development Committee on Feb. 4 approved three right-to-work (RTW) bills, marking an early start on a measure that failed to pass the full chamber last year.
The bills were quickly approved the Select Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations then went to the full House.
Two of the bills, HB 569 and HB 116, are identical and would ban Missouri employers from requiring workers to pay any dues or fees to a union.
The third, HB 582, would apply only to the construction industry.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was first published on Feb. 12. Since then, the House approved a combined version of HB 116 and HB 569 on and voted to send it to the Senate. Look for complete coverage in the Feb. 19 edition of the Labor Tribune.)
The goal is as it has always been, to financially cripple unions by allowing free riders to enjoy the benefits of union representation in a union shop without paying dues or a fair-share fee to the union.
DISAPPOINTED BY VOTE,
SURPRISED BY SUPPORT
Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, called the Feb. 4 vote and the committee’s action “disappointing,” particularly when there are so many more pressing issues – job creation, infrastructure improvement, funding for higher education and public schools – facing the state.
However, Louis said the number of newly elected Republican representatives who have been willing to discuss the issue pleasantly surprised him.
“We continue to work with our friends on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate,” Louis said. There are legislators in both parties, and the state’s new Independent Party, who understand that RTW doesn’t help anybody. In fact, it lowers the standard for working families.”
Several freshmen Republican from the St. Louis area said they are opposed to the measure, including Representatives Becky Ruth, of Festus, Dan Shaul, of Imperial, and Shane Roden, of Cedar Hill.
That’s good news, said Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council.
“The fact is while we see momentum for these bills moving forward, people do see the value in some of the labor unions,” Aboussie said. “Union members need to be talking to people on both sides of the aisle about the damaging effects of RTW.”
A House Committee hearing on HB 116 and HB 569 brought a standing-room only crowd to the hearing room in the basement of the Capitol.
State Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), a member of the Select Committee, suggested there are more pressing labor issues the state should be focused on.
“If you believe that workplace safety is important and I believe it’s important, but we’ve been here for seven years and we can’t think of a single time this legislature has stepped up and tried to protect workers,” said Webber. “Who do you think is going to do that?”
Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, a proponent of RTW, repeated his same misleading claims from last year that RTW is a key factor in businesses choosing to relocate.
State Representative Bob Burns (D-Affton) called Kinder out on the low wages paid by businesses in RTW states.
“The reason that these companies are locating in these states that are ‘Right-To-Work’ is because they can pay less dollars,” said Burns.
URGENT MEMBER MEETINGS
Louis said the state AFL-CIO is organizing “Urgent Member Meetings” at union halls and labor clubs statewide to respond to legislation.
Last year’s urgent member meetings helped educate many workers about the real effects of RTW and the conservative pro-business groups behind it.
This year’s meetings will include additional information, Louis said, and direct requests for workers to talked action.
Meeting schedules will be published in the coming weeks in the St. Louis Labor Tribune and the Kansas City Labor Beacon.