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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri House, Senate approve bills restricting unions' use of dues

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 12, 2013 - Following on the heels of the Missouri Senate, the state House has given first-round approval of a bill that imposes restrictions on the use of union dues. But Tuesday’s vote of 93-62 was well below the number of votes needed to override a possible veto by Gov. Jay Nixon.

A second vote will be needed to send the measure to the Senate.

The Missouri House’s bill, HB64, would require all unions and teachers groups -- with the exception of firefighters -- to get written permission each year from their members before donations for political spending could be automatically be deducted from their paychecks.

Labor and teachers groups emphasized that such donations already are voluntary and separate from regular union dues. However, House backers of the bill disputed whether that was the case.

Earlier Thursday, after eight hours of a Democratic filibuster, the Missouri Senate gave first-round approval to its version of the proposal, SB29,  which would require that public-employee unions and teachers groups obtain annual written permission from their members before any dues could be automatically be deducted from their paychecks.

Separate permission would be required for the already voluntary deductions of contributions to the teachers or labor groups’ political action committees.

The Senate’s initial approval was by voice vote, so it won’t be clear until the final vote -- expected later this week -- whether Senate backers have at least 23 votes, which would needed later to override a possible veto by Nixon.

Both chambers were seeking to get various bills on labor issues approved this week before the General Assembly goes into recess next week.

Police, firefighter exemptions debated

The biggest debate between the chambers appears to center on whether police and firefighters unions – or all unions -- should be included.

The Senate paycheck bill deals only with public-employee unions, with the exception of “first responders,” including police, firefighters and EMTs.  The House version applies to all unions working for public and private industry, with the exception of firefighters.

Labor representatives said they suspected the Senate bill exempted police and firefighters because of the sponsors' fear that the measure wouldn't pass otherwise. However, House backers made a point of including police groups as being covered by the bill's dues restriction.

Backers said the aim of the paycheck restriction is to protect individual workers who object to union spending on political campaigns. Critics countered that federal law already stipulates that union members can bar any of their dues from being spent for political purposes.

During the House debate, several critics contended that the General Assembly was focusing solely on labor union members and ignoring the political-donation requirements that some private companies had imposed on their workers.

In any case, Missouri labor and teachers groups contended that the real Republican aim was to cripple unions.

Chris Guinther, president of the Missouri-National Education Association, said that the bills seek to solve “issues that aren’t problems,’’ since teachers already donate to the political action committee only on a voluntary basis.

“It is so disappointed in a state with underfunding’’ of school districts that the General Assembly is focusing instead on anti-worker issues, Guinther said.

She and other critics said that many of the anti-union bills circulating in the General Assembly are modeled after versions proposed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council and circulated in a number of states.

The Missouri chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national conservative group, on Tuesday praised the Senate's version of the union-dues bill and its chief sponsor, state Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla.

“Paycheck protection is a good first step in protecting the right of Missouri workers,” said Missouri state director Patrick Werner. “We applaud Sen. Brown for recognizing that workers should be able to choose how their hard-earned money is spent."

Critics point to a Tweet by Werner, in which he referred to the paycheck measure as "First step in #mortw."

House acts to reduce 'prevailing wage' in rural areas

(Update) Afterward, the state House approved another bill, HB409 -- also opposed by unions -- that changes the calculation in rural areas for the state's "prevailing wage'' requirement for public-works projects.  Rural legislators contended that the formula for rural areas should be changed to lower the prevailing wage.

State House Speaker Tim Jones lauded passage of both bills in a statement. Regarding the paycheck bill, he said, "No one should be forced to make compulsory contributions to an organization which will use the funds to support candidates that the worker may not support."

As for the prevailing wage change, he said it would "help these counties and school districts save money on projects," by lowering the rural wage by as much as 20 percent. “Prevailing wage reform will help protect taxpayers and struggling school districts,” Jones said. (End update)

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