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Courts give right-to-work opponents in Missouri a second option to try to block law

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

A Missouri appeals court helped labor groups Tuesday, giving them a backup plan in their attempt to block the new right-to-work law that’ll take effect Aug. 28.

The court ruled that the state must restore the original ballot language for initiative petitions that seek a constitutional amendment to make sure Missouri can’t have any right-to-work laws. Such laws bar unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues or fees.

Right-to-work supporters contended the language, crafted hours before former Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander left office, was too biased in favor of labor. A lower-court judge agreed earlier this year, but Tuesday’s ruling overturned that decision.

Already, there’s a separate set of petitions circulating to have voters in 2018 decide whether the right-to-work law that Gov. Eric Greitens signed in February should go into effect. The petitions for what is legally called a referendum must be delivered — with the correct number of valid signatures — to the state by 5 p.m. on the same day the law starts.

If that method succeeds, it’s unclear whether labor groups can put the constitutional amendment question on the same ballot.

Union leaders will confer with lawyers over the next few days to decide what to do about the proposed constitutional amendment petitions, according to Laura Swinford, spokeswoman for We Are MO, a coalition of labor unions funding the campaign. She blamed the legal fight over “these out of state groups (who) parachute in, very well-funded, to try to stop this process, to try to get this language changed, to stop us at every turn.”

The pro-right-to-work groups, led by the National Right To Work Committee, didn't immediately return requests for comment on whether they will appeal Tuesday’s court decision.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.