JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers on Thursday sent a bill banning mandatory union fees to new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who has promised to sign the so-called right-to-work measure that was vetoed by his Democratic predecessor.
Greitens' signature would make Missouri the 28th state to bar mandatory union fees and dues from nonmembers — a move that opponents describe as an attempt to weaken unions. Backers say it gives workers the option to work at a business without paying union fees and will attract businesses to the state.
"It's about bringing in jobs for union and nonunion members," said Republican Rep. Holly Rehder, who ushered the Senate bill through the House. "It's to help all of Missouri's working families."
House members voted 100-59 to pass it. Illinois is the only state of eight that border Missouri that has not passed right to work. Neighboring Kansas has been a right-to-work state since 1958, when voters there approved an amendment to the state constitution.
Movement to pass right-to-work laws gained momentum after the 2010 elections, when Republicans swept to control in many state Capitols. In 2012, Indiana became the first state in more than a decade to enact right to work. Michigan passed it later that year, Wisconsin in 2015 and West Virginia in 2016. Kentucky's new law made it the 27th right-to-work state.
Primarily Republican supporters in Missouri have tried for years to pass the bill. Lawmakers succeeded in 2015, but former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill. Legislators couldn't muster enough votes to override him.
But there's no longer the threat of a veto under Greitens, who on the campaign trail pledged to sign right to work if legislators sent it to his desk.
Nevertheless, opponents aren't giving up.
Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis has submitted several versions of a proposed initiative petition to the secretary of state's office that would reverse a right-to-work law. If enough signatures are collected, voters could decide in 2018 whether to adopt a constitutional amendment protecting workplace contracts requiring all employees to pay fees covering the costs of union representation.
"We're not done yet," said Cynthia McDaniel, the wife of a Teamster who said she's helping with the petition process. She was among hundreds of protesters who came Thursday to the Capitol and filled the visitors seats in the House chamber. More gathered outside, with some who didn't make it in holding their ears to the doors to listen to floor debate.
Now that right to work is out of the Legislature's hands, Republican lawmakers can shift attention to other labor-related bills critics say are aimed at chipping away at unions.
One proposal would require public union members and nonmembers to opt in every year to pay dues, rather than continuing to have dues deducted from their paychecks unless they opt out.
The number of Missouri workers who are union members rose to 262,000 last year — up to 9.7 percent of the workforce compared to 8.8 percent the previous year, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But union membership has in general declined, both in Missouri and nationally. Missouri's union membership stood at 13.2 percent in 2000.