Public union certification bill worries police, firefighter labor reps

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – House Republicans clashed with public union representatives Tuesday morning regarding a bill firefighters and police officers said could put a significant burden on their ability to collectively bargain.

Rep. John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, said he offered HB 238 to the House Economic Development Committee to address transparency and accountability concerns with public labor organizations to taxpayers as well as the General Assembly. The bill would force public sector unions to file their constitution and bylaws with the Department of Labor and institute rules on public union officers and employees to file reports on income received from their unions.

Former Sen. Jane Cunningham, director of the Monarch Fire Protection District, testified on the bill and said the reporting provisions were necessary for public unions because they negotiate for taxpayer money. However, she also said it would help union members hold leadership accountable.

Rep. John Wiemann

Rep. John Wiemann

“The reporting itemization of this bill are helpful not only to the taxpayer, but especially to the union members,” she said. “In our district alone in St. Louis County, those dues our firefighters pay are $2,200 per year, almost half a million every election cycle in one fire district. Union members get no accounting whatsoever and they deserve a report.”

However, the most contentious part of the bill came with decertification rules. Democrats and labor supporters felt the need to essentially vote to recertify unions would put a financial strain on unions as well as make it more difficult to organize because it would essentially make abstention votes become “no” votes when it came to certifying a union. If not enough union members voted in an election, it could make it more difficult to maintain the status as a certified union. It would also enforce mandatory recertification elections every two years.

Sen. Bob Onder sat in on parts of the hearing. He carries the Senate version of the legislation which has already been voted out of the Senate General Laws Committee. His bill specifies that 50 percent of a union – all members not just those who vote – must vote in favor of certification for the union to represent those workers. Wiemann said the bill was necessary to help union members who were unsatisfied with the way their union members operated.

“The current process of decertification is inadequate because it places the burden on the members and it allows for potential retaliation against those members,” Wiemann said. “If they’re representing their members well, they have nothing to worry about when it comes to recertifying their unions.”

Rory Rowland

Rep. Rory Rowland

Democratic Rep. Rory Rowland said placing that standard on unions was “beyond the realm of logic.” Former Rep. Jeff Roorda of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association said the bill was the one piece of legislation his union found the most “anti-police.”

“I understand that’s not the intent of this bill, but it’s the practical effect of this bill,” Roorda said. “You’re aligning yourself with the most anti-police elements in Ferguson if you vote for this bill.”

Gregg Keller of the Missouri Century Foundation disagreed with that assessment. He noted after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a similar law in 2011, over 90 percent of unions in the state had continued to exist. However, an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found that union membership had declined from 14.2 percent to 8.3 percent in 2015, and some teachers unions elected not to re-certify their unions to protest the law’s requirements.

The House already voted to approve a paycheck protection law that included police and firefighter unions when they have been exempted from the law in years past. Gov. Eric Greitens has made a vocal commitment to police, firefighters and other first responders, but only time will tell if that extends to their public labor unions.

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