Labor, business interests debate Missouri 'right to work' legislation

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 | 8:33 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Labor and business representatives turned out in large numbers Tuesday morning in the second public hearing for House Bills 1053 and 1143, popularly known as the "right to work" bills. 

Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, who sponsored House Bill 1143, insisted that the measure was not anti-union and said he thought union membership would increase if the bills passed. The crowd, made up mostly of union supporters, chuckled. 

The two bills would prohibit unions from collecting dues from workers as a condition for employment. Supporters say that forcing workers to pay union dues strips them of their right of free association, but those opposing the bills think that they were designed to weaken unions' bargaining power. 

Much of the early debate was dominated by White and Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka. 

White said that Missouri has a good, generous labor force and that he didn't think union members would become freeloaders by opting out of paying dues if the "right to work" bills passed. 

Frame countered that if Missouri adopted White's proposals, wages and standard of living would go down.

Mike Louis, secretary and treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, disagreed with the intent of the bill, saying workers already have the right not to pay union dues.

Under "Beck rights," after the 1988 Supreme Court decision of Communications Workers of America v. Beck, workers aren't required to pay union dues in excess of "agency fees," which cover the costs of labor negotiations. If Missouri became a "right to work" state, unions could no longer collect those fees. 

Because union labor, including wages and benefits, usually costs more than non-union labor, supporters of the bills pointed to Missouri's weak job statistics as reasons "right to work" would benefit the state. 

Missouri's economy is not doing well compared to other states' economies, White said. 

Raymond McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, was also in favor of the bills, saying that choosing not to pass them would have an impact on the economy. Large companies that want to move to a new state often overlook those without "right to work" statutes, he said. 

But Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, grew impatient with what he thought were vague business promises. Webber pressed McCarty for specific companies that might have bypassed Missouri. McCarty said he could provide the information later.

Some businesses, Webber said, are actually moving to Missouri, including Janesville Acoustics, an automotive parts company from Michigan, which recently became a "right to work" state. 

Clark Brown, a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, described the bills as "government intrusion" and thought that putting the measure to a popular vote was "a cop-out." He worried that voters didn't know much about unions or what "right to work" meant. 

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