JEFFERSON CITY — The Republican-led Missouri House took another step Monday in a repeat bid to require labor organizations to ask public employees every year to agree to have union fees automatically deducted from their paychecks.
The House voted 83-70 to give preliminary approval to the measure, but it needs one more affirmative vote before moving to the Senate. The House tally is only two votes above the minimum threshold required to pass a bill out of the chamber.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed nearly identical legislation last year, but the House version would bypass him and instead send the measure to the August ballot for voter approval.
Public employees who are not in unions can be required to pay so-called fair-share fees that are automatically deducted from paychecks. The legislation would apply to those fees as well as the dues that union members pay.
In addition to needing consent for those automatic deductions, unions representing public employees would also need to receive annual written consent to spend a portion of a worker's fees on political activities.
Supporters argued the measure would give workers more control over how unions spend their fees. They said the move would ensure money is spent on things favored by workers.
"Many union leaders pursue agendas that their members do not support," said sponsoring Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston.
But the bill's opponents said workers can already choose not to contribute to a union's political activities. Under federal law, non-union members can request a rebate for the portion of their fees used for political purposes.
The House measure would require unions to ask for that permission upfront. Rehder said the current practice can be intimidating and embarrassing.
In his veto message last year, Nixon said the legislation would place an unnecessary burden on public employees. His remarks were echoed by opponents on Monday.
"This bill is all about politics," Mike Louis, Secretary Treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO said in a written statement after the House vote. "It is a totally unnecessary and unfair bill that would hurt the people who work for us every single day."
The narrow margin by which the House endorsed the bill showed a division in the majority Republican caucus on the labor issue. Twenty Republicans joined the chamber's Democrats in voting against the bill.
The tight vote could also have implications for another priority of House Republican leaders, right-to-work legislation that prohibits labor contracts from requiring the payment of union fees as a condition of employment. Two Republicans — Reps. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, and Kevin Engler, R-Farmington — both supported the paycheck measure Monday, but said they would oppose a right-to-work bill. That measure would apply to all unions, not just those representing public employees.
The paycheck measure would not apply to unions representing first responders, such as police and firefighters. The exemption for public safety unions drew scorn from opponents, who said if the bill protects workers then all types of employees should be included. Rehder said the exemption was included in last year's version as a compromise but did not elaborate further when asked by Democrats.
Other states, including Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, Michigan and Washington, have enacted similar paycheck laws in the last decade. Kansas passed legislation last year that would prevent public employee unions from deducting money from members' paychecks to fund political activities.