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Right-to-work measure passes Missouri Senate; another vote needed in state House

The Missouri Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. Legislative action here on Thursday by Sen. Jason Crowell would refer the "right-to-work" issue to voters next year.
File photo | Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. Legislative action here on Thursday by Sen. Jason Crowell would refer the "right-to-work" issue to voters next year.

Updated Jan. 26 with Senate approval of right-to-work bill - The Missouri Senate has approved a bill to make Missouri a "right-to-work state,'' but a fight could still loom with the House over what union contracts would be affected.

The state Senate voted 21-12 on Thursday to pass a bill that would apply the labor restrictions to future contracts.  The House approved a similar bill last week, but it would expand the restrictions to current contracts as well.

Labor leaders have maintained the House version is illegal, and would likely lead to lawsuits.

State Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla and sponsor of the Senate version, said after the vote that he thought it was fair to leave existing contracts in place.

At the current pace, a final version could be on Gov. Eric Greitens' desk by the end of next week. Greitens, a Republican, had promised during the campaign to sign a right-to-work bill, which has been long sought by business groups.

Under right to work, unions and businesses are barred from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues. Business groups say the measure would improve the state's economy, while unions contend the restrictions will lead to lower pay.

Original story from Jan. 23:

Supporters of an effort to make Missouri a right-to-work state have filed suit to block a  union-led initiative petition campaign to overturn such a law.

Among other things, the right-to-work backers question the wording of the ballot summaries that were crafted by the staff of Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, before he left office. Those filing the suit want the summaries to be rewritten by new Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican.

Supporters of the initiative-petition drive hope to collect enough signatures to get a measure on the 2018 ballot that would overturn the right-to-work law that is expected to be approved soon by the Missouri General Assembly and then signed by new Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican. The Missouri Senate is debating the issue this week, after the state House recently approved it.

Under a right-to-work law, unions and employers would be barred from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues or fees.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is providing some of the legal representation for the suit. 

It was filed Friday on behalf of two Kansas City police officers and a registered nurse who would be affected by the change in state law, and by the initiative, should it be approved by voters.

Actually, the right-to-work backers filed ten lawsuits because Kander approved ten slightly different versions of the initiative-petition proposal. Missouri AFL-CIO president Mike Louis said in a recent interview that labor leaders have yet to determine which version to circulate. A spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee said the ten suits are intended to force all of the ten initiative-petition summaries to be rewritten, regardless of which one is circulated.

The suits contend that the ballot summaries for the initiative proposals are too complimentary and are aimed at misleading voters.

For example, one of the Kander-approved summaries states:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to prohibit impairing, restricting or limiting the negotiation and enforcement of certain collectively bargained agreements with an employer?”

The suit wants that summary to be changed to:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to prohibit the General Assembly and localities from barring agreements between public and private-sector labor unions and employers requiring payment of union dues or fees as a condition of continued employment?”

The legal fight could delay the initiative campaign to collect signatures, although the deadline to turn in the signatures is about 16 months away.

In a statement, Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said, “These deliberately misleading initiative petitions are nothing more than an attempt by Big Labor to confuse voters in hope that the confusion will result in overturning popular Right to Work protections.”

Louis with the state AFL-CIO replied, “Why is a DC-based special interest group, funded by the uber-rich, challenging the rights of hard-working Missourians to have their voices heard at the ballot box? Missouri voters wanted to see the swamp drained, that means putting the power back with the people. This attack on the ballot language filed by an elected representative of Missouri’s working families is nothing more than an attempt by a dark money group to expand swamp into our great state.”

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.