When she woke up Thursday morning, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal didn’t know how she would vote on one of the most high-profile bills of the 2016 legislative session.
The University City Democrat joined 22 Republicans in March to vote in favor of legislation enacting new restrictions on public employee unions. Not long after that Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill.
Thursday night Chappelle-Nadal found herself the swing vote that would decide whether or not the governor’s veto would stand or fall.
And for three hours, as Democrats stalled the bill with a filibuster, no one in the Capitol — not the media, her Republcian colleagues or even her fellow Democrats — had any idea what Chappelle-Nadal intended to do.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Everyone else cast their votes, and the bill stood at 22 in favor of overriding Nixon’s veto, just one vote shy of the required two-thirds majority.
It was Chappelle-Nadal’s turn to vote, and after a few seconds of silence she spoke.
And with that, the bill was dead.
The legislation, known as “paycheck protection” to supporters and “paycheck deception” to detractors, would require most public employee unions to acquire written permission from members annually before any union dues can be withheld from their paychecks. It exempts first responders, such as police and firefighters, but includes unions representing teachers, social workers and most other state or local government employees.
Proponents say the measure prevents teachers and other government workers from being forced to contribute to political activities they don’t support. It also forces more transparency on public-sector unions, they argue, and ensures members are aware of how their money is being spent.
Critics point out that unlike private-sector unions in Missouri, membership in a public employee union is already voluntary. Workers can quit a union at any time. The real aim of the legislation, critics argue, is to weaken one of the GOP’s chief political adversaries by forcing public unions to spend resources to constantly hound membership for money.
Democrats had vowed to block the bill with a filibuster, and Republicans promised to respond by quashing that filibuster and sending the legislative session into chaos just a few hours before the General Assembly adjourns for the year a 6 p.m. tonight.
With both sides of the debate depending on Chappelle-Nadal’s vote, she saw an opportunity.
“The African American community has been taken for granted by the labor movement for decades,” she said. “I wanted to use this opportunity to highlight the racism and inequality that exists in the labor movement.”
She kicked off debate Thursday with a speech listing off a “litany of issues with unions,” including several run-ins that she said involved racist comments by union members. And she criticized a lack of minority inclusion in labor unions.
While she will always support the “rank and file” union members, “labor unions can’t expect carte blanche support anymore,” said Chappelle-Nadal, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay for a seat in Congress this year. “My votes will be cast on a case-by-case basis.”
Both the House and Senate will return at 10 a.m. Friday morning for the session’s final day.