Missouri Senate endorses union paycheck bill

After steadfast opposition from Democratic senators, the Missouri Senate gave first-round approval early Tuesday morning to a bill that would require public employee unions to seek annual consent in order to automatically deduct fees from members’ paychecks.

The final measure was the product of a compromise forged after a nearly eight hours of opposition from Senate Democrats. The original measure would have banned paycheck deductions outright for some unionized public employees.

Sponsoring Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said no one was probably happy with the final product but the compromise allowed the measure to get to a vote.

Even with the compromise allowing public employees to annually opt-in for automatic paycheck deductions, Democrats voted against the final measure and claimed the bill was part of an agenda to weaken labor unions.

“Hope someday people in this chamber will stop bullying labor and cherish them like I do,” Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, said.

The measure also requires annual consent to spend union fees on campaign contributions. Brown said this allows public employees to have greater control in how their union fees are being spent. Democrats refuted that argument and said the bill was unnecessary because employees can already choose to not have their dues spent for political purposes.

The Missouri House is also pursuing its version of paycheck legislation. Their measure, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, requires annual authorization for political contributions, but not on union dues.

The Senate’s version exempts unions representing first responders, such as police and firefighters. But the House is unlikely to go along without exemption, citing a recent collective bargaining agreement for Kansas City police officers.

The agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police and the state-appointed Board of Police Commissioners requires non-union members to pay $73 in annual fees. Burlison cited that fee as a reason to push for restrictions on unions collecting political contributions from their members.

Under federal law, non-union members can request a rebate for the portion of their fees used for political purposes. But Burlison, R-Springfield, is sponsoring legislation that would require unions to ask for permission upfront.

“Right now, you have to take the action, which is something most people are terrified to do,” he said.

Brown’s measure needs one more vote before moving to the House. After Tuesday morning’s vote, Brown offered a realistic assessment of the legislation’s chances of becoming law, saying Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon would likely veto the bill. He added that he was unsure if enough Republicans in the House and Senate would support an attempt to override a Nixon veto.