After less than 30 days in session, the Missouri General Assembly has passed a “Right to Work” bill and it is now sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
One of the first major actions taken by the Legislature since it began its session on Jan. 4, is not new, but with a Republican back in the governor’s mansion, it soon will become law.
Senate Bill 19 has traveled quickly through preliminary votes, committees, through the House and to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk on Feb. 2.
Under this act, employers are barred from requiring employees to become, remain or refrain from becoming a member of a labor organization or pay dues or other charges required of labor organization members as a condition of employment.
The bill also draws out punishments for employers who violate the new labor law.
Any person who violates or directs another to violate this act is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.
Also, any person injured as a result of violation or threatened violation of this act is entitled to injunctive relief and certain other damages.
Prosecuting attorneys, circuit attorneys and the attorney general are charged with investigating complaints under this act.
Although many labor leaders are calling right to work a union-busting measure, Republican lawmakers included language that allows companies with agreements already in place with unions to continue.
The provisions of this act do not apply to any agreement between an employer and a labor organization entered into before the effective date of this act but shall apply to any such agreement upon its renewal, extension, amendment or modification in any respect after the effective date of this act.
The bill was one of the first taken up by legislators and passed the Senate in just 22 days by a vote of 21 to 12.
In the lower legislative chamber, the bill moved through the House with break-neck speed in just 14 days by a vote of 100 to 59.
State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who voted for the bill, said he liked the Senate version of the bill because of the provision to keep existing contracts in place.
“As someone who grew up in a union household, I think right to work is a personal choice,” Alferman said. “The choice to be in a union shouldn’t be decided by people who came before.”
Alferman added the right to work debate this year has been completely different this time around with a Republican governor who had already expressed his desire to see the bill passed.
“It was a night and day difference,” Alferman said. “The unions and everyone knew this was a foregone conclusion. Really, the more important issue for labor should be prevailing wage.”
State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Union, said before he voted yes on the bill, he conducted extensive research and even polled residents of his district.
“I’ve never been a member of a union, so I decided if a union issue ever came up I would go back to the district to get their opinion,” Curtman said. “Our survey showed about 57 percent were in favor of right to work.”
Curtman said some issues require a lot more research to make an educated vote.
“I looked at the state Constitution, which requires a right to choose and listened to the people of the district,” he said. “I also looked at the economic impact it will have on the state and decided it was the right thing to do.”
As many legislators expected, Curtman said he knew the bill would most likely pass this year with a new administration.
“This was a cornerstone issue of many campaigns last fall,” Curtman said. “I first learned about this in 2010 and there were votes in 2013 and 2014. With the new governor, we expected it was going to happen.”
Freshman State Rep. Nathan Tate, R-St. Clair, who works for a trucking company, went outside party lines and voted against the bill.
“I didn’t lose a wink of sleep about it,” Tate said. “The majority of my district was against it. I was elected to be a voice for the people, and that’s how I voted.”
Tate added when he was campaigning last year, he made it no secret he was against the legislation.
“When the House version of the bill was going through, I had about 400 calls, messages and emails saying “thank you” for voting against it,” Tate said. “I only had one person tell me they didn’t like my decision.”