JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republicans used their large majorities to send a right-to-work measure to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday but appear to lack the support to override an expected veto.
The Missouri House gave final approval to the bill that would prohibit workplace contracts that require union fees to be collected from nonmembers. Republican-controlled legislatures have successfully passed similar measures in three other states in recent years, with Wisconsin becoming the 25th right-to-work state earlier this year.
Missouri's legislation passed the House 92-66, a day after winning Senate approval 21-13. Both votes were short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto from Nixon, who denounced the bill as an attack on workers that would weaken the middle class.
"At a time when our economy is picking up steam and businesses are creating good jobs, this so-called Right-to-Work bill would take Missouri backwards," Nixon said in a written statement.
Although Republicans hold supermajorities, some Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing the bill.
Supporters say the legislation would attract more businesses to the state and spur economic growth, while opponents assert that it would undermine unions and lead to lower wages. Reviews of research into the economic effects of right-to-work laws have generally concluded that it is difficult to isolate that provision from other policies and preferences in the state.
Proponents of the measure also say that workers should not be forced to pay fees for representation if they do not want to be members of the union.
"It's not just about people receiving higher salaries or providing job growth, it's about giving individuals freedom," said bill sponsor Rep. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Springfield.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individuals can opt out of membership dues but the union may still collect fees for services such as negotiating contracts that cover both members and nonmembers.
Opponents say unions would likely end up representing people who did not pay any fees under a right-to-work law, creating a free-rider problem and weakening the strength of unions.
Democratic Rep. Clem Smith, of Velda Village Hills, said unions protect employees from discrimination and that workers did not want this bill.
"I can make the same pay as my counterpart who may be of any other ethnicity," said Smith, a union member who works for Boeing. "It doesn't matter if you're black, white, male or female, whatever you want to call yourself. ... There's no inequity."
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the state has been overlooked by businesses searching for places to expand because it did not have a right-to-work law.
"This means more jobs and opportunities for our state, plain and simple," said Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Mehan.
The legislation would make anyone "who directly or indirectly violates" its provisions subject to misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a fine of up to $300. Civil lawsuits also could be brought against anyone who violates, or threatens to violate, the bill's ban on mandatory union fees in workplaces.
The opponents included Republican Rep. John McCaherty, of High Ridge, who said the legislation amounts to government intrusion in the private sector and interferes with the rights of business owners to reach contracts with unions.
"When you knock on their door next time, don't tell them that you kept government out of their life," McCaherty told colleagues.
Republican supporters of right to work have been pushing to pass the measure for years. It gained initial approval in the Missouri House for the first time last year but failed to garner enough votes to get to the Senate.
This year, Senate Republicans used a rare procedural move to cut off debate Tuesday evening and force a vote. Democratic opponents of right to work responded Wednesday by slowing activity in the chamber to a crawl.
Right-to-work bill is HB 116.