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Right-To-Work Bill Praised, Blasted During House Hearing

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
A standing-room-only crowd awaits the start of a hearing on House Bill 1099, which would make Missouri a right-to-work state.

A bill to turn Missouri into a right-to-work state was the subject of a hearing in Jefferson City Monday.

As written, the so-called "Freedom to Work Act" (House Bill 1099) would bar workers from being required to "engage in or cease engaging in specified labor organization practices" as a condition for employment.  It's sponsored by State Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.

"'Freedom to work' is a necessary bill if Missouri wishes to regain competitive standing with the states that surround us," Burlison told the House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety.  "This important legislation will encourage job growth. I believe it will make unions stronger, and it will promote individual freedom for workers across our great state."

Greg Johns with the group Missourians for Right to Work testified in favor of House Bill 1099.  He cited Oklahoma as an example of where it has worked.

"They have created 62,000 more new jobs there," Johns said.  "Oklahoma has reduced from 7 percent to 5 percent (their) unemployment, (the) lowest in the nation, (and) Oklahoma's rainy-day savings went up since they passed right to work (in 2003), from $2 million to $600 million."

Opponents, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat, said the bill would lead to lower wages for all working Missourians.

"When Missouri middle-class families have less money to spend, small businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores, department stores, and the like, could suffer," Slay testified.  "The men and women of organized labor are not our enemies, they are our allies, as we saw very well in (the recent) Boeing effort."

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, also a Democrat, went further.

"'Right to work' means union-busting, that's exactly what it means," Dooley testified.  "Right to work doesn't mean a right to work; it means a right to deny fringe benefits and an opportunity to the middle class and working people of this country and this state."

Even the name of the bill, "Freedom to Work," came under criticism by Democrats on the committee.

"It used to be called 'Right to Work,' now we're at 'Freedom to Work,'" said state Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka.  "Is it (something) where ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) polled them and said 'Freedom to Work' polls better?"

Burlison jokingly responded, "I don't know who this ALEC person is."  He then said that he did not get the new bill title from ALEC, an organization of  conservative state legislators and business representatives, which develops model legislation.

House Bill 1099 is strongly supported by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, but has strong opposition in the Senate among both Republicans and Democrats.  He told reporters Monday that he doesn't have a specific time table for getting it passed, but he did include it last week in the first group of bills referred to committee.  Meanwhile, the House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety has not yet voted on the bill.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.