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Missouri General Assembly passes anti-union 'paycheck protection' bill

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 3:27 p.m. March 3 with final passage. - A bill that prohibits labor unions from automatically withholding fees from the paychecks of public employees is on its way to the governor's desk. The Missouri House passed the Senate version of the bill today 109 - 49. The House support is the exact number needed to override a veto. Opponents say the bill will weaken workers' rights, but supporters say it's necessary to check the power of union lobbying.

Original article March 2 - Legislation that would bar unions from automatically withholding dues from public employees' paychecks has passed the Missouri Senate.

House Bill 1891, the so-called paycheck protection bill, would only apply to public sector workers. It passed the House last month by the veto proof majority of 110-47.

State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, said Tuesday evening that workers should not rely on the "good intentions" of labor unions.

"There are men in all areas who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern … they promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters," he said, quoting Thomas Jefferson.

Onder added, "Do we believe that union bosses should be masters of their members, or should be servants of their members? Should they be able to spend their time being political power brokers that ignore their members, or should they have to go to their members and ask for the members' permission to extract political contributions from their paychecks?"

Democrats argued that union leaders have to answer to their members, and that the bill would undermine that relationship. They blocked the bill for nearly seven hours Tuesday night, but reversed course after they were allowed to add language to make the bill less objectionable by limiting the release of data collected on public employees.

That amendment specifies that unions that have members from both the public and private sectors cannot release data kept on public employees to private employees. It was sponsored by Democratic floor leader Joseph Keaveny of St. Louis.

Despite the amendment, Keaveny said it's still a bad bill and he hopes it gets vetoed.

"That would be a good day for me, yes, if the governor vetoes it and (Republicans) don't have the override votes," he said. "There will be pressure to get that number down below 23."

That's the number of votes needed in the Senate to override a veto. But the bill passed 23-7  just before midnight.

The vote was not strictly along party lines, however. Republican Paul Wieland of Jefferson County joined most Democrats in voting "no." Wieland's district is known to have a lot of union members.

Meanwhile, Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City broke rank and joined Republicans in voting "yes." She was unavailable for comment after the vote.

The bill now goes back to the Missouri House, which must decide whether to accept the changes made by the Senate or ask to negotiate a compromise version.

Lawmakers passed a similar paycheck protection bill in 2013, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it and Republican leaders were unable to garner enough votes for an override.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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