JEFFERSON CITY — An effort to change the date for Missourians to vote on “right-to-work” legislation won initial approval from a House committee Tuesday.

The resolution would move the vote from the November general election to the August primary.

“Every day that goes by that our economic developers in this state cannot advertise Missouri as a right-to-work state prevents us from being able to take advantage of the right-to-work benefits,” Ray McCarty with Associated Industries of Missouri, a business-lobbying group, said during a Tuesday hearing before the House Economic Development Committee.

Those against “right-to-work” legislation and the date change fear voter turnout will be lower in the August primaries than the November general election, as it has historically been lower in the primaries the last 10 years.

Right-to-work legislation bans labor unions from making membership fees mandatory. Those pushing for this legislation say that doing away with mandatory fees would lead to job growth and would make Missouri more attractive to businesses. According to previous Missourian reporting, organized labor groups say the fees are used to negotiate for better wages and benefits such as health care and pensions.

“I think an issue this big needs to be voted on by as many people as we possibly can in our state,” said Rep. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis, who favors leaving the issue on the November ballot.

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, countered with: “I think they voted on that when Greitens ran with that being part of his platform.”

Some Democrats have also argued that one of the motives to move the election is to separate it from the U.S. Senate race. It is expected that unions will work to get their members to the polls for the “right-to-work” vote, and that could also benefit incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose race is on the November ballot.

The “right-to-work” law was initially set to take effect in August of last year. Supporters of this legislation said they want the issue to be “put to rest.”

“We’ve lived in ambiguity since the House passed and the Senate passed this bill last year,” said Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis.

After Greitens signed the right-to-work bill in February of last year, Michael Louis, president of the Missouri chapter of the AFL-CIO, filed a petition for referendum on “right-to-work” legislation with the Secretary of State’s office. Opponents gathered 300,000 signatures from Missourians for the petition, and this stopped the “right-to-work” law from being implemented until Missourians could vote on it in the November general election.

Beck emphasized that Missourians supported a petition with language stating the vote would take place on Nov. 6.

In what Beck called the “fine-print area,” there was a clause stating this would occur “unless the General Assembly decides to move it,” he said. Lawmakers said they have the prerogative and ability to change the date Missourians can vote on these measures.

“Either way, I’m confident that the people who are in opposition to right-to-work will show up in force and vote no on Proposition A because they know, once and for all, this will end the attack on Missouri’s working families and their ability to provide a livable income with insurance benefits and a pension for their families,” Louis said.

Both the AFL-CIO and Empower Missouri went on the record opposing the change.

Rehder said there are a lot of things on the November ballot, and she thinks this measure will increase turnout for the primaries if placed on the August ballot.

Eight of the nine Republicans on the committee voted for it. All four Democrats on the committee voted against changing the date, and one Republican was absent from the vote.

The ballot initiative will go to the House floor next.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit: horvitm@missouri.edu.

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