Mo. House panel hears bill limiting union fees
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republicans are trying again to change the way certain public employee unions can collect fees, and this time they're determined not to let a likely veto from the Democratic governor stop the measure from becoming law.
The House Workforce Development and Workforce Safety Committee heard public testimony Monday on legislation that its supporters call "paycheck protection." The bill would require unions to get annual written authorization in order to collect fees that are automatically deducted from a worker's paycheck by an employer. Unions would need similar consent to spend a person's fees on political activities.
Supporters argued the measure was necessary to ensure that workers had control over how a union spends its fees. Republican committee members said the possibility of losing authorization for automatic deductions would require unions to justify spending decisions to members and non-members who also pay fees.
"This allows someone to stay in a union, but if they're not happy with the political activities of the union, then they can get out," said Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a similar measure last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, who said it would place an unnecessary burden on public employees.
Last year, the Senate fell one vote shy of overriding Nixon's veto. Even if the Senate Republicans could have mustered the deciding vote, the veto override could have had trouble in the House. The bill was 24 votes shy of the two-thirds threshold for overriding vetoes when it was passed by the chamber in May.
Sponsoring Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said sending her bill to the ballot, instead of the governor, would increase the measure's chances of becoming law. If passed, it would appear on the August 2014 ballot.
Opponents at Monday's hearing echoed Nixon's arguments from a year ago. Representatives from labor unions told House members the legislation was not needed because people could already opt-out of having their fees used for political activities.
"This is an unnecessary intrusion on the inner workings of a private, non-governmental organization," said Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association.
Democrats also suggested the motivation behind the bill was politics, not protections for public employees. Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka, said it could hinder unions from collecting enough money to spend on candidates, typically Democrats, that support pro-union policies.
"This would be a way to greatly limit Democratic contributions," he said.
Like last year's version, unions representing "first responders," such as police and firefighters, would not be affected under Rehder's measure.
The committee did not vote on the measure Monday.
The legislation is part of a string of Republican-backed proposals to change how unions conduct business in Missouri. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, is pushing for a measure, known as "right to work," that would bar labor contracts from requiring that all employees pay union fees. A House committee has also held a hearing on legislation opposed by labor groups that would change how wages are calculated on public construction projects.
Union paychecks is HB 1617