JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Marking the first significant move forward for the legislation, a Right-to-Work bill was voted out of committee in the House today by a party line vote of 8-4.
Springfield-area Republican, Rep. Eric Burlison, sponsors the bill, HB1099. The legislation stipulates that no business may enter into exclusive contracts with labor organizations, and that no business or organization may require the payment of dues or membership in a union as a condition of employment.
Burlison and his fellow Republican supporters have long argued that unions provide a disincentive for businesses looking to relocate and say that RTW states are far more business friendly. Democrats and labor organizations say the bill will lower the average wage of Missouri workers and stifle legitimate political activity of unions.
“This doesn’t only hurt union families,” Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County, said. “This hurts every single working family in the state. And it hurts business owners who see their relationship with their union employees as a valuable thing.”
The bill is a stated priority for House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, as well as Lt, Gov. Peter Kinder. While the Republican caucus remains somewhat divided on the issue ahead of the 2014 elections, the caucus does have enough votes to pass the bill.
But Senate Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, says that House priorities are likely not to come up in the upper chamber until after the legislative spring break. With a likely Democratic filibuster attempt and an assured veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, it is unclear whether a legislative avenue — rather than an initiative petition — is the best way for RTW advocates to accomplish their goals.
Labor leaders were quick to criticize the vote. Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Mike Louis called the bill “misleading in name alone,” in a statement.
“It is very frustrating thing when the State Legislature continues to push an agenda that is just not good for Missouri. Right to Work laws have a negative impact on workplace safety, lower the average wages of all workers not just Union members, does not create jobs and is misleading in name alone. Right to Work does not give anyone a right to a job that they don’t already have a right to. It undermines the purchasing power of workers and drives down the state and local tax base. This legislation is nothing more than an attack on Missouri workers by greedy CEO’s to further tip the playing field in favor of employers and silence the voice of workers.”
Adding to the tricky political landscape is the hiring of high-powered firm Bardgett & Associates, along with a former Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley and several other operatives by labor leaders. With an election rapidly approaching and some Republicans sitting in very close districts, the question about whether RTW would hurt or help the party statewide remains unanswered.
“This bill scares the living daylights out of Republicans in 50/50 districts,” Roorda said. “And I think it shows voters just what this majority is capable of and what happens when you elect acolytes of the Koch brothers. I’m not willing to roll the dice on this issue and gamble with working families.”
The bill will now be placed on the House calendar, where it will come to the floor subject to Jones discretion.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.