Government & Politics

Right-to-work bill clears major hurdle in Missouri Senate

The Missouri Senate on Wednesday gave initial approval to a right-to-work measure. Final Senate approval is expected Thursday, and then the bill will go to the House.
The Missouri Senate on Wednesday gave initial approval to a right-to-work measure. Final Senate approval is expected Thursday, and then the bill will go to the House. AP file photo

Republicans took a huge step forward Wednesday in their quest to make Missouri a right-to-work state.

On a 21-12 vote, the Missouri Senate gave initial approval to legislation allowing employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented. The Senate is expected to give the bill final approval Thursday. It will then go to the House, where it is expected to sail smoothly through the legislative process.

Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, has promised to sign it.

Three Republicans joined all nine Democrats in oppostion: Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, Gary Romine of Farmington and Paul Wieland of Jefferson County.

Clearing the Senate has always been the biggest obstacle for supporters of right to work. Democrats in that chamber have historically used the filibuster to stall or kill it, and debate on the bill this year has continued off and on in the Senate since Monday.

But with a governor willing to sign it, Democrats knew they had no hope of getting GOP leaders to back down. They ended their filibuster Wednesday evening.

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“Right to work is wrong for Missouri, and my heart breaks for the working class families of this state that will suffer under its impact,” said Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, a St. Louis County Democrat and president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council. “Lower wages. Few jobs. And an irreparable wound upon the fabric of our nation.”

Right to work may be the highest profile clash between labor unions and legislative Republicans this year, but it’s hardly the only one.

A bill making it more difficult for unions representing public employees, such as teachers or first responders, to collect fees from members awaits debate by the full Senate. Two other bills — one that repeals the state’s prevailing wage law and another that outlaws project labor agreements — were approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

Republican lawmakers are also pushing a bill that would shorten the amount of time laid off workers can collect unemployment benefits and another that would overhaul the state’s worker’s compensation system.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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