JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A measure that would significantly change how unions representing Missouri's public employees can collect and spend members' fees was sent to the governor Monday.
Under the bill approved by the House, unions would need to get annual consent from members before they can automatically deduct fees from paychecks. It would also force unions to receive similar annual consent in order to spend fees on political activities, including campaign contributions.
The 85-69 vote in the Republican-led House was just three greater than the minimum number needed to pass legislation and 24 votes short of a two-thirds majority that would be needed for a veto override, should Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon reject the bill. The Senate passed the same version of the bill earlier this year.
Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said the bill would protect the rights of individual union members. Other supporters argued that giving members a choice to opt-in to automatic paycheck deductions allows them to play a more active role in the organization's political activities.
"We believe that an employee should have the right to be able to choose if their money is going to be able to go to a political campaign," said Missouri Chamber of Commerce Vice President Tracy King.
Other states, including Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, Michigan and Washington, have enacted similar paycheck laws in the last decade. Kansas passed legislation this year that would prevent public employee unions from deducting money from members' paychecks to fund political activities. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Idaho's law in 2009.
Current practice allows fee-paying members to seek a refund if they don't like how their organization spent the money. But King said that process can be rife "with intimidation."
The legislation would require union members to sign two separate authorization forms every 12 months. One would allow fees associated with the collective bargaining process to be deducted and the other would allow payments for the union's political operations. The bill specifies that the forms must be in bold-face, size 14 type and must be retained by the union.
Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, opposes the measure and said members are given opportunities in a "democratic setting" to voice their opinion of the union's political activity.
"This is just another bill that is designed to make it harder for workers in Missouri to voice their political opinion about stuff," he said.
In Missouri, employees can sign up for other automatic paycheck deductions, including for some charitable donations. Opponents of the paycheck legislation say unions would be singled out and at a disadvantage compared to other organizations when it comes to collecting fees directly from paychecks. Supporters counter that those deductions are voluntary contributions while union fees are not.
Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the measure for several weeks earlier this year but relented after reaching a compromise to allow fees to be deducted with annual consent from members. Senate Republicans were pushing for a version that would have prevented unions from deducting fees out of paychecks altogether.
Some lawmakers supported the bill but argued it did not go far enough. Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said progress is being made but the legislation should affect every worker.
Organizations representing "first responders," such as police and firefighters, would be exempted from the measure's requirements as would unions representing workers in the private sector. An effort to include private sector unions was defeated 31-1 on the Senate floor earlier this year.