Missouri lawmakers on Friday pushed through two bills seeking to undercut a union-backed initiative petition that aims to repeal a right-to-work law passed last year.
Republicans had sought to turn Missouri into a right-to-work state for decades. Last year they finally got their wish when Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation allowing employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented.
Labor unions responded by collecting more than 310,000 signatures to put a repeal of the law on the November 2018 ballot.
Early Friday morning, after hours of debate, the Missouri Senate passed legislation moving the date of the right-to-work repeal vote to the August primary ballot.
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Later Friday, the House gave initial approval to a bill putting a proposal on the November ballot asking voters to amend the state Constitution to include a right-to-work law.
Proponents of right to work argue it will bolster Missouri’s economy by making the state more hospitable to businesses.
Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican who sponsored the House bill, said right to work is also about individual freedom.
"This is a very highly contentious issue," Brattin said, "and there's a lot of passion behind both sides."
Opponents say the real motivation is political: Republicans want to weaken a political nemesis by allowing some workers to benefit from the contracts that labor unions negotiate without having to contribute to covering the costs of those negotiations.
Moving the date of the repeal vote, opponents contend, exposes the politics of the right-to-work debate. Republicans worry the issue will inspire increased turnout among labor union members, critics say, which could hurt GOP candidates up and down the November ballot.
"Politics are at play here because turnout would be higher and there would be a price to be paid at the polls for the majority party," said Sen. Jacob Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat who is also secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO. "We’re thumbing our nose at 310,000 voters who signed that petition. ... This just shows the majority party doesn’t care about the will of the voters. They just want to keep going until they get their way."
Republicans had hoped an initiative petition campaign would have gotten the right-to-work constitutional amendment on the ballot without legislative help. A political action committee called Freedom to Work spent nearly $1 million to collect signatures, but the campaign failed to turn in any signatures before last Sunday's deadline.
Most of the money that Freedom to Work raised for the campaign came from A New Missouri Inc., Greitens' political nonprofit. And most of that money — more than $750,000 — went to Greitens' political allies.
On Wednesday, A New Missouri donated an additional $500,000 to Freedom to Work.