Missouri House, Senate endorse union paycheck bill

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | 7:52 a.m. CDT; updated 8:32 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 12, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — After steadfast opposition from Democrats, the Missouri House and Senate each endorsed separate measures Tuesday that would change the way labor unions can collect and spend fees.

The Senate voted early Tuesday morning after nearly eight hours of opposition from Democrats to endorse its measure, which would require public employee unions to receive annual consent to automatically deduct fees from members' paychecks.

Tuesday afternoon the House endorsed a measure that doesn't include the required consent for automatic paycheck deductions but would require some unions to seek annual written consent to spend fees on political activities. The Senate bill has a similar requirement on campaign contributions by public employee unions.

House and Senate Republicans said the measures protect "worker freedom" and would give union members more control of how their money is spent.

"This ensures that the union that represents them is held more accountable. ... Many unions are using money to propagate agenda their members may not agree with," said House sponsor Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.

But neither bill applies to all unions in the state. The Senate version only applies to public employee unions, but does not subject public safety unions representing first responders to the annual consent requirements for automatic deductions and political spending. The House's political contribution consent requirement would affect every labor union, except public safety unions that currently do not require paying fees as a condition of employment.

Burlison's measure originally exempted public safety unions, but he changed his mind, citing a recent collective bargaining agreement for Kansas City police officers.

The agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police and the state-appointed Board of Police Commissioners requires non-union members to pay $73 in annual fees. Burlison cited that fee as a reason to push for restrictions on unions collecting political contributions from their members.

Under federal law, non-union members can request a rebate for the portion of their fees used for political purposes. The House's measure would require unions to ask for permission upfront.

Exempting certain types of labor unions was a sore point for Democrats in both chambers. Rep. Steve Webb, D-St. Louis, said if "it's good for goose it should be good for the gander."

The Senate's final measure was a compromise forged after hours of opposition from Senate Democrats. The original measure would have banned paycheck deductions outright for some unionized public employees.

Sponsoring Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said no one in the Senate was probably happy with the final product, but the compromise allowed the measure to get to a vote.

Even with the compromise allowing public employees to annually opt-in for automatic paycheck deductions, Democrats voted against the final measure and said the bill was part of an effort to weaken organized labor.

"Hope someday people in this chamber will stop bullying labor and cherish them like I do," Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, said.

Despite the vote Tuesday morning, Brown offered a realistic assessment of the legislation's chances of becoming law, saying Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon would likely veto the bill. He added that he was unsure if enough Republicans in the House and Senate would support an attempt to override a Nixon veto. The House's first-round vote fell 16 votes short of a veto-proof majority.

Both measures endorsed Tuesday need one more affirmative vote before moving to the other chamber.

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