By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – Four months after voters overwhelmingly said “No” to Prop A, Eric Burlison, the newly elected Republican state senator from Springfield has pre-filed legislation that would once again make Missouri a so-called “right-to-work” state.
A beneficiary of the deep pockets of pro-RTW Republican megadonor David Humphreys, Burlison filed the legislation (Senate Bill 63) recently in preparation for the Legislature’s next regular session, which starts in January.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said. “Eric Burlison is not doing anything more than slapping his constituents in the face. They voted that they did not want RTW, but apparently David Humphreys’ money is more important to him than what his constituents think.”
Republicans overwhelmingly control both the state House and Senate, but it’s unclear whether they will line up behind the legislation like they did in 2017.
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) said earlier this year he didn’t expect “right-to-work” to be a major agenda item for Republicans in the next session. “I think the issue’s over,” he said.
NEW RTW CONCEPT
Evidence is mounting, however, that Republicans aren’t ready to let go of the measure.
A St. Louis television station reported last week that documents obtained through a freedom of information request revealed high-level officials within Republican Governor Mike Parson’s office began looking at how to get around the Prop A vote before the election even took place by working with county and municipal officials to pass local “right-to-work” (RTW) laws.
Burlison, who served in the House from 2009 to 2016, thinks voters should never have had a chance to vote on the measure.
“Democracy is not freedom,” Burlison said in a bizarre Orwellian text message to the Kansas City Star. “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. In a Constitutional Republic there are certain rights which should never be taken away, not even by a 64 percent vote. Among these is the right of association or the right to join a union and in this case not to join a union.”
Of course Burlison’s argument ignores the fact that workers don’t have to join the union, a right under federal law.
Burlison was term-limited out of the House in 2016 and immediately began raising money for a state Senate bid.
Humphreys, the owner of Joplin-based TAMKO Building products, was first in line to jumpstart Burlison’s campaign, contributing $75,000 a full two years before the election.
Today, Burlison has $391,787 in his campaign coffers – more than 10 times what the job pays.
HOW WE GOT HERE
So-called “right-to-work” bars union-represented businesses from negotiating contracts that assure workers will either pay dues or a smaller “fair share” fee to cover the union’s cost of bargaining and representation. The whole goal of such laws is to financially starve unions, which, by federal law, must represent all workers in a union shop whether they pay dues or not, thereby limiting the union’s ability to negotiate and represent workers.
During his tenure in the Missouri House, Burlison served as chairman of the House Professional Licensing and Registration Committee and was the chief sponsor in the House of a “right-to-work” measure that passed out of the Legislature but was ultimately vetoed by then-Governor Jay Nixon.
In 2017, after the Republican-led Missouri Legislature passed, and former Gov. Eric Greitens signed, RTW into law, unions and their allies submitted more than 300,000 signatures on an initiative petition to force the measure to a vote this year. Nearly two-thirds of voters across the state rejected the proposal 67.5 percent to 32.5 percent.
Burlison, who has also pre-filed legislation that would require more signatures for initiative petitions, says RTW is “a moral issue” that shouldn’t be decided by voters.
Constitutional amendment proposed to protect RTW vote
In an effort to protect Missourians’ RTW vote – and the basic tenant of democracy, that a majority vote of the people shall rule – the Missouri AFL-CIO has submitted four proposed initiative petitions calling for a public vote on a constitutional amendment barring passage of “right-to-work” laws or ordinances restricting collective bargaining agreements that assure workers will either pay dues or a smaller “fair share” fee to cover the union’s cost of bargaining and representation.
The petitions are a response to the recent filing by state Senator-elect Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) seeking once again to bring RTW to Missouri – ignoring the 67.5 percent to 32.5 percent vote in August against RTW – as well as news that high-level officials in Republican Governor Mike Parson’s office had begun looking at the possibility of authorizing passage of county or municipal RTW laws.
Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, filed four versions of the petition last week with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office for review and authorization in time for the November 2020 elections. The Secretary of State has until Dec. 29 to certify the request and draft final summary language.
“It’s really a sad commentary when someone wants to blatantly ignore the will of the majority of voters,” Louis said.
“‘NO’ means ‘NO’,” he said. “No amount of out-of-state millionaires’ money to buy politicians to do their bidding should change that.”