JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The same day that conservative mouthpiece Ed Martin announced he would not be returning as Chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, Martin’s own legacy lived on as several of his supporters held hearings on their bills to make Missouri the 25th “Right-to-Work” state.
Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, is once-again carrying legislation that “prohibits an employer from requiring a person to become a member of a labor organization as a condition or continuation of employment.” In an all-too-common sight, union members overflowed the designated hearing room for the hearing, which took several hours and featured dozens of witnesses.
Last year, then-Speaker Tim Jones publicly championed Right-to-Work and pushed behind closed doors to move the legislation to the senate. A concentrated lobbying effort of the Republican majority kept that from happening as RTW ultimately failed to gain the necessary 82 votes needed to pass the House.
“I think Missouri becoming the 25th Right-to-Work state is an inevitability,” Jones said. “It’s not a matter of if, but when. To me it is about economics, either we want to create manufacturing jobs or we don’t. Someone had to step up and start that conversation and I was proud to do that. Myself, [Burlison] and [Rep. Holly Rehder] all stood up and took that bold step. I’m so proud to see Eric and Holly continue that second step.”
Jones predicted that the House would be the first chamber in Missouri to pass the issue this year.
Democrats in Missouri are eyeing RTW efforts with cautious optimism. While there is no indication that House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country or Senate Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, would kill the legislation, neither man has listed labor reform as a major priority for the session.
With Gov. Jay Nixon confirming he’ll veto any RTW legislation, many Missouri Democrats believe that such a veto would not be overridden in the senate. Some Republican lawmakers have pushed to put the issue on the ballot and bypass Nixon altogether, but the move would likely guarantee an influx of national labor money into Missouri Democratic accounts and a heavy labor turnout in the general election, a combination that could prove deadly for Republicans.
“Do they want it on the ballot? I don’t know, I wouldn’t if I was them,” said House Minority Floor Leader, Rep. Jacob Hummel. “They don’t want that ballot fight, certainly not in 2016, in a year that could be very good for Democrats.”
Hummel says that RTW would bring major labor money and major labor turnout to the state in 2016, which is exactly what someone like Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster might need to lock up the Governor’s Mansion for the next several years. Koster, like Nixon, has been publicly critical of RTW efforts.
“There are a lot of issues in this building that people want to work on,” Hummel said. “I just don’t know that this is a top one for most of us.”
But Jones says making RTW a major platform for the 2016 governor’s race is a winning strategy. Jones indicated that polling he’d seen in 2014 showed RTW at more than 60 percent approval, saying he felt a strong push for the issue prior to the 2016 election could help push the Republican nominee to victory.
Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email email@example.com or via Twitter at @CMReischman