After going nowhere in 2013, supporters hope to bring “right to work” back next year

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — At the end of the session, leadership in both chambers discussed their belief in the legislature’s successful passage of a few labor-related bills that are based on conservative ideas.

Though prevailing wage and “paycheck protection” bills passed both chambers, another labor-related topic that saw minimal action this session was the “right to work” issue.

Some supporters say the time wasn’t right to bring it up this year. Opponents argue that no matter when it’s brought up, Gov. Jay Nixon likely will veto it, adding that the same applies to the two bills passed this session.

While any legislative vehicle of the “right to work” issue wasn’t taken to a vote in either chamber, the other two bills’ vote counts could be indicative of where the legislature would stand on another labor reform bill.

The prevailing wage bill, House Bill 34, received one vote shy of a veto-proof majority in the Senate as a Republican senator was absent, but in the House the vote was 93-64, well below the magic override number: 109.

For “paycheck protection,” Senate Bill 29, the Senate was split down party lines with a 24-10 vote, proving to be veto-proof in the upper chamber. The House sat at 85-69, showing, again, not enough support to override a veto.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, who sponsored House versions of the three labor bills, said he was glad to see the lower chamber’s version of the “right to work” bill, House Bill 77, get all the way to the House calendar even though it wasn’t voted on.

“I think in [leadership’s] mind, they know next year is the right time to discuss it and so that’s where it ended up,” Burlison said. “Considering we know the governor will veto it, the question is do you throw something on the desk just to watch him veto it or do you try to get it on the ballot?”

Burlison said he doesn’t know the answer, but there’s a group of supporters who plan to work during the interim with outside groups to find out what would be best. He said if the legislation landed on Nixon’s desk and was vetoed, he doesn’t think the House would have the votes to override it.

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who chaired the House Standing Committee on Workers Freedom, said she also was disappointed the bill never came to a vote.

“We know we had the votes,” Rehder told The Missouri Times. “I know that Tim Jones and John Diehl both agree and want to get it passed.”

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston

Majority Floor Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, told The Missouri Times that passing that bill would need to be strategic, adding that he thinks there’s interest in the House but there needs to be a better demonstration of where the Senate is on the issue.

“I think it’s going to be a priority next year and in future years,” Diehl said.

Rehder said she’s made national contacts and done a significant amount of research into “freedom to work,” which she said is an alternative and suggested phrase for “right to work.”

“’Right to work’ has been beat up on so much,” she explained. “The issue is about giving workers the freedom to choose, so it’s important to have that messaging correct.”

Additionally, Rehder said she is working with her personal lawyer to research the legalities of potentially filing a bill that would allow voters to decide, county by county, whether they want to be a “freedom to work” county. She said it makes sense to let voters decide so that areas like southeast Missouri, which she represents, aren’t “losing out.”

Again, while there have been no votes to further gauge support on the issue, the other labor reform bills are very indicative that Democrats are fully opposed of the issues.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, said he doesn’t think a comprehensive “right to work” policy would stand a chance in Missouri.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City

“I think our state has shown that blue collar, working class folks support issues that help blue collar, working class folks,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think “right to work” shows that support for those workers. “The fact that those [labor reform bills] can gain the majority of the votes in the chamber is concerning in and of itself.”

LaFaver said he’s heard about Rehder’s county-by-county idea before, but doesn’t support it any more than he would a comprehensive bill. He said the county approach could constrict competition in some places while exploiting it in others.

He added that he doesn’t think “right to work” is a rural or urban issue, but rather strictly a party-line subject.

Until next session, supporters like Rehder and Burlison said they hope to use the interim to collect input from businesses and workers as well as do further research on a national level.

To contact Ashley Jost, email ashley@themissouritimes.com, or via Twitter at @ajost. 

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