JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
The Missouri House of Representatives gave initial approval Wednesday to a measure that would place a right-to-work issue on a ballot, but it fell short of the 82 votes that will be required to send the bill to the Senate.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, was given first-round approval by a vote of 78-68.
Four more votes will be needed at the next reading of the bill for it to advance.
“This is an enormous victory for working Missourians,” House Speaker Tim Jones said afterward in a written statement.
While Republicans are hopeful they can round up the additional supporters for the next vote, Gov. Jay Nixon said he thought Wednesday’s action was a win for Democrats and for unions.
“Today, a bipartisan coalition of legislators rejected right-to-work, marking a victory for Missouri working families and a setback for the out-of-state ideologues and special interests trying to attack them,” Nixon said in a statement.
Currently, in the state’s “agency shop” setup, employees who are not union members must still pay fees comparable to union dues to compensate the union for its bargaining costs. Union proponents say that benefits everyone in the shop, not just union members. Labor leaders have argued that right-to-work would force unions to cope with “free riders,” who reap the rewards of a union contract without paying fees to support collective bargaining.
The bill would prevent employees who are not union members from being fired for refusing to pay such fees.
In Missouri, 219,000 workers were members of a union last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. An additional 45,000 workers were not union members but worked in jobs covered by a labor contract.
Many Republicans favor right-to-work because they believe it would spur economic growth and lead to job creation.
“Unions should fight for their members and earn their support,” Burlison said. “What do they have to fear from giving their members their choices?”
Burlison said right-to-work policies have boosted employment in many neighboring states, while job growth has remained stagnant in Missouri. All the neighboring states, except Illinois and Kentucky, have enacted right-to-work polices.
Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, chairman of the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee, which originally heard the bill, said the policy is one of a handful of things businesses look for when moving to a new state.
“From an industry standpoint, they have a little more freedom in the way that they can plan or schedule their work, not just for the week but for the year,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about there being a work slowdown or renegotiating all the time. I think it is a happier, healthier work force. Industry feels the same way or they wouldn’t be doing it. It also gives workers the freedom of choice. I don’t think it is a measure that hurts unions; I think it is something that helps workers.”