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Missouri lawmakers may act quickly to attempt override of Nixon veto of bill he deemed anti-union

Missouri Capitol
File photo | Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Capitol

Shortly after the Missouri General Assembly returns Tuesday from its weeklong recess, lawmakers are expected to attempt their first override this session of a bill vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

And either way, the vote could be close.

The bill in question – dubbed by backers as “paycheck protection’’ and by critics as “paycheck deception” – would make it tougher for many public-employee unions and teacher groups to collect dues or fees.

The bill would require many public employees who are members of unions or teacher groups to annually authorize automatic paycheck deductions for dues or fees. Now, the workers have to approve the deductions only once, although they can rescind their approval at any time.

The Missouri arm of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, contends the attempted override could come late Tuesday. The Missouri House and Senate each passed the bill with the exact number to override – 109 in the House and 23 in the Senate – but opponents are hoping to peel off at least one of those votes.

Backers call the bill “paycheck protection’’ and say the aim is to curb union pressure on workers. Supporters also assert that public-employee unions are improperly getting too involved in politics.

Opponents call the measure “paycheck deception’’ to make it harder for unions to negotiate for benefits. Those opponents also note that federal law bars unions from using any money for political activities without the dues-payer’s approval, and union members can require their union to exempt any political spending from their fees.

At a news conference Monday in St. Louis, spokesmen for several St. Louis area labor and civil-rights groups called for legislators to allow the governor’s veto to stand. Lew Moye, retired president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, contended the bill is primarily an attack on the labor movement.

“We see the unions as one of the prime obstacles to the right-wing agenda against working families, not only here but around the country,” Moye said.

All of the labor leaders and representatives of allied groups at Monday’s news conference were African American. That’s noteworthy because the only Democrats in the General Assembly to vote for the bill also are black: state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City and state Rep. Courtney Curtis of Ferguson.

Both had said their votes largely reflected their belief that unions have discriminated against African Americans.

Moye said he and others have talked to the two lawmakers. Moye acknowledged that many unions do need to address racial issues within their ranks, but he added that the paycheck bill in question wouldn’t help solve it.

The bill exempts police and firefighters unions, which backers acknowledge was needed to win votes. But opponents say the exemptions are improper, and may be unconstitutional.

Nixon contended in his veto letter, “That the legislation picks and chooses who to ‘protect’ based on political calculations rather than a rational basis demonstrates that its purported ‘protections’ are merely pretext for interfering with ‘public labor organizations.’ “

The governor also noted in his veto letter that lawmakers attempted to pass a similar bill in 2013, but his veto that year was sustained.

The override fight may, in part, be tied to tension between some Republican legislative leaders and Nixon, a Democrat, in recent years. Lawmakers already have overridden more Nixon vetoes than any issued by his predecessors.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.