JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Debate alternated between heartfelt to contentious to passionate to sobering between members of the House as the body perfected Holly Rehder’s right-to-work bill 100-58 Wednesday, passing it Thursday 100-59.
The issue has divided Missourians and that divide was on full display Wednesday over the course of nearly three hours of debate.
Only Democratic Rep. Doug Beck offered an amendment to the legislation during perfection. The amendment would add a referendum clause to the bill to have Missourians vote on proposal. Beck attempted to attach the same amendment during committee.
“I’ve never heard someone say they want fewer wages, less benefits, less health care and retirement,” Beck, a longtime union member, said. “It was important enough in 1978 to go to a vote of the people, and it’s important enough now.”
However, Republicans countered in turn that Democrats had rejected a referendum proposal in 2015, knowing Nixon would veto any right-to-work bill and with the faith they could retain enough of a voting bloc to sustain his veto.
Rep. Travis Fitzwater questioned the Democrats for their inconsistency on the issue.
“Two years ago, the majority caucus had the guts to put this amendment on the ballot. It was stopped, and now, we have the minority party telling us we’re afraid to do it. Now with a mandate from the voters of the state of Missouri… we have an opportunity to put this in statute. Now is the time to get things done.”
Rep. Paul Curtman criticized the labor-supporting legislators just as fervently.
“They are only using this amendment for political exploitation of the people,” Curtman said. “This was a cornerstone issue in the last election in our state and it was by any measure a landslide for the Republican Party that ran on this issue.”
The amendment failed by a wide margin.
After Beck’s amendment was voted down, numerous representatives spoke about the sincerity of why they would vote the way they did. Republicans who had once opposed the legislation or had come from union households in particular expanded at length about the economic benefits the bill could bring and why union leaders needed to be held accountable by their members.
“Mr. Speaker, we need to get back in the ballgame, and this is one bill that gets us back in the ballgame,” Rep. Rocky Miller said. “We need large companies to come here again, and they’re not.”
Rep. John McCaherty, one of a handful of Republicans to maintain their “no” votes on the legislation, urged members of organized labor that the bill’s inevitable passage would not be the end of the world.
“No bill is as great as we say it’s going to be or as horrible as we say it’s going to be,” he said. “There’s a way to move forward and a way to move past all of this. My hope is that Missouri is a better place.”
Rep. Rehder closed out debate before the final roll call with a similarly reassuring comment, albeit from the opposite side of the spectrum.
“This is not a destruction of the collective bargaining agreement,” she said. “What this does is it protects those who wish to not be part of the union and not be represented by the union.
“We all want better for Missouri. We just think of different paths.”
The bill now moves to the Senate where it is expected to be taken up quickly. Sen. Dan Brown’s right-to-work bill moved out of the Senate General Laws Committee 5-2.
Featured photograph is courtesy of Tim Bommel.