Midwest labor protests don't worry Missouri lawmakers

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | 9:55 p.m. CST; updated 11:18 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 23, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Even before the multistate debate on negotiating labor contracts swept across the Midwest, proposals to take on organized labor emerged in Missouri's legislature.

The measure, termed by supporters as "right-to-work," could prohibit contracts that force employees to pay service fees to a union representing other workers at the company.

Although the Missouri proposal is not limited to state government workers, the disputes in Wisconsin and other states are being discussed in the Missouri debate.

On Wednesday morning, Democratic lawmakers in Indiana fled to Illinois to avoid voting on legislation concerning collective bargaining for public sector unions. Illinois is also the state where Wisconsin Democrats fled last week to avoid a similar vote.

"The activism that has been inspired by the amazing show of Wisconsin and also the tremendous wind in Indiana definitely stirs debate," said Cathy Sherwin, a communication staffer for the American Federation of Labor. "We will see people turning out on behalf of working issues."

But legislators in Missouri say the debate here has been less heated.

"I think the way we have been able to interact right now has been cordial, even if we don't necessarily agree on things," said state House of Representatives Democratic Leader Mike Talboy of Jackson County.

Talboy said the protests occurring in other states will raise awareness about the issue in Missouri and become part of the discussion but that it will not come to such an extreme situation here.

Most Democratic legislators in Missouri do not support the measure, and Talboy said it is a disservice to his constituents.

"I just think it is a really bad idea, and it is a very harmful to workers and very harmful to businesses," he said.

Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, said the measure is still in a "premature" stage in the Senate and said he thinks it has a 50-50 chance of it making it to the House.

"If it makes it out of the Senate with an up vote and comes over here, then we could probably pass it," Fisher said.

Fisher said he isn't sure what effect the Wisconsin and Indiana protests will have in Missouri but does not agree with how those states' lawmakers have handled the situation.

"I think they are doing a disservice to their state and their constituents by not being there," Fisher said.

The measure has split Missouri's business community. At the beginning of the legislative session, business operatives from across the state revealed six initiatives that would help mend the economy. They did not include the measure of negotiating contracts. 

"I think that tells us all what we need to know about where business stands on it," Talboy said.

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