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Missouri House Approves Right-To-Work Bill, But Margin Not Veto-Proof

Missouri House Chamber
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
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The chambers of the Missouri House of Representatives at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.

(Updated 12:40 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12)

For the first time ever, the Missouri House has approved a right-to-work bill that curbs union rights.

But the House’s 92-66 vote Wednesday afternoon was far short of the number – 109 -- needed to withstand a likely veto by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat with close union ties.

Final House approval came Thursday morning. The  measure now moves to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future and a possible Democratic filibuster.

Sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, the bill would bar unions and employers from requiring all workers to join a union, and pay union fees, if a majority votes to organize.

"Since 2000, nearly 5 million Americans have moved to the 24 states that provide workers their freedom," Burlison said.  "One-quarter of those states border Missouri, and they have been a constant drain on job growth to our state."

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce was among the business groups lobbying hard for the bill. Labor groups have sought to defeat it.

House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, issued a statement after the vote. A backer of the measure, he said in part, "This is a step in the right direction for the sustained economic prosperity of our state and I am excited to see so many of my colleagues join me in embracing the idea of true worker freedom."

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, issued a sharp dissent.

“Imposing an unwanted and unnecessary government mandate on Missouri businesses is the antithesis of conservatism,” he said.  “Missouri companies like Ford, General Motors, Boeing and Anheuser-Busch are strong and successful in large part due to the mutually beneficial relationships they enjoy with their labor unions. Government shouldn’t interfere with how these companies choose to conduct business.”

Hummel is a union electrician and holds the No. 2 state post for the Missouri AFL-CIO.

State Rep. Keith English, I-Florissant, also offered sharp criticism of the "right-to-work" measure, saying it would benefit non-union retailers, namely, Wal-Mart.

"In right-to-work states, the average worker makes $5,538 (less) per year," English said.  "Right now we have a Wal-Mart being built in the city of Florissant.... Well, wouldn't they love to build more Wal-Marts so they can close down union shops like Schnucks and Dierbergs and other businesses, and use labor that would make $5,538 dollars less?"

A similar bill last session narrowly failed to win enough House votes to pass.  Thanks to GOP gains in last fall's election, this year's bill received 10 more votes than the 82-vote minimum needed to pass. But 17 additional votes would be needed for any override of a Nixon veto.

About two dozen of the House’s Republicans – who hold a huge majority -- joined almost all of the state’s Democrats in opposing the bill, which combined HB116 and HB569 and would apply to all unions.

The defecting Republicans included several in GOP-leaning St. Charles County, where many union members and retirees reside.

No Democrats voted for the measure. But state Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis, was absent and Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-Berkeley, voted “present.”

Curtis sponsors a narrower right-to-work bill that only applies to construction unions, which he says have discriminated against minorities. Curtis’ bill passed by a voice vote earlier Wednesday but would need a roll-call vote for final passage.   It was sharply criticized by fellow Democrat Clem Smith of Velda Village Hills, who compared the measure to "a gateway drug to full-blown right-to-work."

The vote on the broader bill came after two hours of passionate debate. Backers contended that the measure would attract more businesses and jobs to the state, while opponents asserted it would drive down wages and threaten worker safety.

Opponents also questioned why the bill was needed, since union membership has been declining in Missouri.

Follow Jo Mannies and Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @jmannies  @MarshallGReport

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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