Right-to-work opponents look to ban legislation as Republicans push forward


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Following a Republican surge in the November general election, the conservative base is primed to deliver on a promise they’ve made for some time now: Missouri will be the next right-to-work state.

Right-to-work has been at the very forefront of Republican priorities for years, but with Gov. Jay Nixon vetoing any legislation on the issue, the proposed legislation has always remained in a state of stalemate.

That could soon change, as incoming Gov.-elect Eric Greitens has been a strong supporter and champion for the conservative push to limit the power of labor unions. He has stated several times that passing right-to-work legislation is one of his top priorities and has promised to sign it into effect.

Republicans seem to have all of the pieces of the puzzle to accomplish just that, with a supermajority in both the House and the Senate and a newly-elected governor to lead the charge. In fact, right-to-work could very well be one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly in the upcoming 2017 legislative session.

The efforts to push right-to-work legislation in the Missouri House is being led by Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who pre-filed a bill earlier this month to put the proposal on the legislative agenda.

Twenty-six states in the U.S. have passed right-to-work laws, and Rehder hopes Missouri will be the 27th.

In the Senate, Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, has filed an identical bill to Rehder’s, while a similar bill is being sponsored by Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin.

Missouri Republicans are taking the fight for labor rights to all corners, with bills from Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrolton, looking to repeal the prevailing wage law and allow exemptions for public works and school construction.

But while Republicans seem to have a clear path to pushing right-to-work through, it’s not that simple. More roadblocks are being put up in an effort to slow the surging Republicans and their mission to pass right-to-work legislation.

Just this week, Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis filed several versions of an initiative petition with the Secretary of State’s office, which asks that Missouri voters amend Article 1, Section 29 of the state constitution to guarantee union negotiating rights and the ability to collectively bargain.

Louis’ proposed constitutional amendment would effectively reverse any right-to-work legislation passed in the upcoming session. He says the proposed changes would grant employers and employees the right to negotiate contracts requiring all employees to pay fees covering the costs of union representation.

The proposed changes read:

That employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. No law or ordinance shall restrict or impair an agreement which requires employees to support their chosen collective bargaining representative. The rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable. Any restrictions on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny and the State of Missouri Shall be obligated to uphold these rights and under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement.

Louis issued a statement on Tuesday through the AFL-CIO’s website stating:

“It is my belief that the people of Missouri voted for the incoming administration of this state in hopes of creating jobs with good pay, good benefits and safe working conditions. All of these items are discussed and negotiated between employers and employees and then voted on by the employees through their chosen representative.

“We do not need the puppets of David Humphreys or any other corporate billionaire to pass laws to interfere with a process that has long made Missouri a great place to have a business and a great place to work.”

Louis’ inclusion of David Humphreys in his comments refers to the fact that the Joplin businessman spent millions of dollars in the past election, supporting Greitens and other candidates who favored labor reform.

The proposed constitutional amendment is targeted for the 2018 general election ballot, but it must first make it through the initiative petition process.

The process has recently become more popular in Missouri since it allows activists to push agenda items that might not typically make it before the legislature. And the measures have had some success, as well, most notably the passage of Constitutional Amendment 2 this past November, which put limits on campaign contributions, like those from the aforementioned David Humphreys.

But the battle to get a referendum on the ballot is hard. It requires the approval of the secretary of state and the attorney general, as well as an analysis from the state auditor, not to mention thousands of signatures from Missouri voters.

A slew of GOP officials will take over the majority of statewide offices in January, but there’s now a push to get these items resolved before then. Currently, the secretary of state office is held by Jason Kander, and the attorney general is Chris Koster, both Democrats, who would be in a position to get such an item pushed through before the Republican takeover. News broke earlier this month of a high number of initiative petition filings flooding into the Auditor’s office, putting a strain on the staff.

Even if legislators manage to pass right-to-work in the upcoming legislative session, it will surely be challenged in the courts. With so much at stake in this ongoing chess match between the two parties, one thing remains certain: the battle over right-to-work is not going away anytime soon.