By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – The Missouri House of Representatives overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of paycheck deception legislation last week, narrowly passing House Bill 1891, requiring public employees to opt in each year for dues to be taken out of their paychecks by unions. The measure passed by a vote of 109 to 47 – just enough for an override – sending the bill to the Senate, where it needs 23 votes to become law.
The legislation would require public employees such as nurses, teachers, social workers and other public workers to give annual written consent for money to be taken out of their paychecks for union dues or political activity.
Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis criticized the House vote to hinder workers’ Constitutionally-guaranteed right to organize and bargain collectively.
“The sole purpose of paycheck deception legislation is to weaken and ultimately silence the voices of those who speak up for working families,” Louis said. “Sadly, the House has put corporations before their constituents, the working people of Missouri, by voting to enact paycheck deception into law.”
The Senate had not taken up the legislation at Labor Tribune press time. If it does, and the override passes, the measure will likely wind up in court.
Meanwhile, the vote can be expected to have a ripple effect in the August primary and November general election.
“We thank Governor Nixon for his veto of paycheck deception and for his tireless efforts on behalf of all working people,” Louis said. “And we thank those members of the Missouri House who voted to sustain Gov. Nixon’s veto. Organized labor will focus our efforts on electing candidates this November that will support all working families.”
One Democrat — Rep. Courtney Curtis of Ferguson — voted for the bill when it was initially passed and “yes” on the veto override.
Rep. Karla May (D-St. Louis) called the bill “crap.”
“This is an unnecessary piece of legislation and you’re coming up with dumb crap,” May said on the House floor. “It’s personal. It’s because you’re doing it to be antagonistic to Labor – simple as that."
“Government needs to get off these people’s back,” she added. “This is no reason for this legislation. And in the six years that I’ve been here, there has been no testimony from Missourians that want this type of attack on workers. Period.”
Bradley Harmon, president of Missouri Public Workers Union/CWA Local 6355, called the House override “a travesty.”
“We have so many real issues in Missouri that are really critical issues to people in our state,” Harmon said. “We have the second highest percentage of children in the country who don't’ have enough food. We live in a city that has the second highest murder rate in the country. Hospitals are closing because their patients don't’ have health insurance. But the legislature is going to be spending its time making it harder for some of the lowest paid public sector workers in the country organize. It’s atrocious.”
Harmon said legislators can expect a fight if the governor’s veto of the legislation is overridden in the Senate.
“We’re not going to go away,” he said. “The Labor Movement wasn't built because people got a permission slip from some politician in a suit and a tie to be in a union. We have 1,200 state employees who have volunteered to be members of CWA and we’re going to do everything that we can do to make sure those people can still be members of CWA. That’s what we’re trying to do now.”
‘BACK DOOR TO RTW’
CWA is not alone.
Mary Armstrong, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420, which represents St. Louis public school teachers, said passage of the legislation would affect her members but the union is working on alternatives to handle dues collection.
One particularly troubling aspect of the legislation, Armstrong said, is that it makes an exception for first responders including police firefighters and EMS workers, essentially dividing public sector workers into two camps.
“I think this is just discrimination between public employees,” Armstrong said.
The purpose of the legislation, she said, is to make it harder to raise funds for organizing and other union functions.
“This is a back door way to right-to-work,” Armstrong said. “They’re not saying you can’t have dues deduction, but they’re saying you have to get written permission each year. That’s costly to an organization. We don’t have the staff to do that and it’s costly to the school district because they have to re-input that information every year.”
Nancy Cross, vice president of Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 MO Division, said the solution, beyond possibly having to adjust to an opt-in rather than an opt-out form of dues collection, is to change the makeup of the legislature by getting more worker-friendly candidates into office.
“There are a number of seats available for us to take back this fall,” Cross said. “And I think all of Labor will be working together.”