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Right-to-work suddenly back on Missouri lawmakers’ agendas

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Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
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A group of union officials speak with Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-Ferguson. Curtis sponsored a "right to work" bill this year aimed at construction unions.

A new front has opened up in the battle over whether Missouri should become a right-to-work state.

Under right-to-work, unions and employers would be barred from requiring all workers within a bargaining unit to pay dues or fees. On Friday, the Missouri House passed a measure that would ingrain right-to-work in the state constitution.

Republican floor leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, argued in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment.

“I want those gentlemen, those men and women, to take their money and invest it the way they see fit, not the union bosses, not the guys that steal from them, not the guys that buy thousand-dollar bottles of wine,” he said.

Opponents say right-to-work would lead to much-lower wages for workers in Missouri. And they’re not happy with the rapid speed that this particular measure is now moving. It had sat dormant since January 24th, then on May 9th it received two public hearings and sailed through two committee votes. Earlier today it received first-round approval by the full House.

“Somebody got paid half a million dollars to move this through committee, is what it looks like,” said Rep. Mark Ellebracht, D-Kansas City. “This is rotten.”

The measure needs another House vote before moving to the Senate.

The upper chamber also passed a right-to-work resolution early Friday morning.

Last year, Governor Greitens signed a right-to-work bill into law, but labor unions and other opponents were able to get enough signatures to also require approval by Missouri voters, which is set for November. Early Friday morning, the State Senate passed a measure to move that vote to August, which traditionally has lower voter turnout.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, opposes the bill, but thinks right-to-work will be defeated regardless of when the vote takes place.

“You have heard me say it more than once that they will turn out in August or November, and that I’m saying as a labor leader,” she told reporters Friday. “As a Democrat in the state of Missouri I’d probably would have wanted it in November.”

The measure is now in the hands of the Missouri House, with one week left in this year’s session.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

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