JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Tempers flared on the House floor Thursday morning as another labor reform issue was debated.
HB 251, sponsored by Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, seeks to require authorization for certain labor unions to use their dues and fees to make political contributions. It also requires written consent for withholding earnings from paychecks, and that the union keeps employee accessible financial records for a minimum of five years.
A similar bill had passed through the Missouri Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. The House managed to override his veto, but the Senate did not.
Republicans in both chambers and the executive branch have taken the fight to labor unions this session, but this particular bill includes members of groups that Gov. Eric Greitens has continuously said he will support: law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders.
Last year’s bill included an exemption for those three groups’ unions. This year’s bill does not.
Supporters said union politics should not be imposed on all state workers, and that this “paycheck protection” bill would prevent money being taken from any employee and given to a political entity against their will. They also noted that no union members came forward during testimony to support the bill.
Opponents rallied against the bill Thursday, reiterating the “paycheck deception” label attached to it in years past.
“[Unions] don’t want this bill, but the majority party wants to impose their will on their paychecks,” Rep. Michael Butler, D-St. Louis, said. “This bill tells teachers, nurses, firefighters and police that the Missouri Legislature knows better and we’re going to make decisions for them.”
Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County, was positively furious about the bill.
“This is nothing more than an attack by one billionaire in the state who wants to do away with unions. It has nothing to do with teamsters, and a member on this floor did not tell the truth.” Burns yelled. “This is an attack on the working people. No matter what lies you have heard on this floor, you have awakened the sleeping giant.”
Republican supporters claim the bill gives a voice to union members who do not necessarily agree with the majority parties inside the unions. Rep. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis said that the people already had this freedom and asked why they needed this bill if those rights are already given.
“You’re giving them a voice? I beg to differ,” Beck said. “To say you’re not trying to take the voice away from everyday people, I find that disingenuous.”
Rep. Justin Hill, R-St. Charles, says that any claim that the bill silences those voices is hypocritical and told his story of how the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, a union that he was a part of, supported his opposition in the last election, citing his stance on right-to-work as the reason they chose to recommend the other candidate.
“It’s not about union members, it’s about union leadership and politics,” Hill said. “To insult one of their own members, and insult the public over their political stances is preposterous. Never have I been so offended in my life than when I had to explain to my children that the Fraternal Order of Police did not endorse one of their own. Where were the voices of my organization when this happened last year? Not once did they go to them.”
After just under two hours of debate, the House came to a vote on the question and approved it by a vote of 95 -60.
“I’m excited to see it pass this week,” Taylor said. “We’re making sure to put the power back in the hands of the union members. It allows them to choose whether they want to be part of the union, rather than going through multiple people, do multiple things to get out of the union, or being forced to pay those dues.”
Taylor says he thinks the legislation can pass through the Senate. Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, will sponsor the bill in that chamber.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said it’s been a tough few weeks for Missouri workers, following the passage of right-to-work.
“We decided we were going to attack workers once again in the name of transparency,” she said. “It seems to me like we should be doing that in our executive branch as well since we still are looking for answers where dollars came from for the inauguration and where they came from in a campaign perspective.”
“But know that this fight is not over,” she finished. “We will see some kind of referendum come down over the next couple years, and see what the people think.”
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.