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Local reps vote ‘no’ on right-to-work

Missouri is one step closer to becoming a right-to-work state, after the House voted 100 to 59 in favor of the legislation Thursday in Jefferson City. It now moves to the state’s Senate where the legislation is expected to pass easily.

Should the bill — sponsored by Republican 148th District Rep. Holly Rehdern — becomes law, employees in Missouri will no longer be required to pay union fees. The bill also includes language allowing for criminal penalties for anyone violating the proposal.

While there have been previous attempts to pass similar legislation in the state for years, now that the GOP holds a super-majority in the legislature and newly-elected Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican who campaigned on passing right-to-work in the state, it seems likely to succeed this time.

Although right-to-work is strongly supported by most Republican legislators, local state representatives Kevin Engler, R-Farmington; Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre; Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, and Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, all voted against the bill.

Still, while the legislators didn’t favor the bill’s passage, the general consensus was that it is all but inevitable and that right-to-work is going to be the law of the land in Missouri.

“I’ve been consistent throughout,” said Rep. Engler. “I represent a union district — Ste. Genevieve County — and I voted against it, but it’s inevitable. In the past the legislature just passed it with enough votes that when it got vetoed by the governor, they couldn’t override it. Now he needs 82 votes and he had over 100, so I would imagine it will go into effect.

“If it’s going to happen, it needs to be part of job creation. To do that we’ve got to do tort reform, we’ve got to do workers compensation reform, we’ve got to do unemployment insurance reform and discrimination lawsuit reform. So it’s got to be part of a bigger picture. I’ve recruited jobs, tried to get people to come to our area. Companies want to know about those other things just as they want to know about right-to-work.”

Rep. Fitzwater said, “We were just a small group of Republicans that stood steadfast and supported the working families, especially those in our area. I had some of the representatives come up to me and say, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Representing my constituents.’

“I come from a family of unionized workers. My dad was a Teamster, my brothers are union concrete finishers and I actually worked for the union myself when I was working during the summers. The largest number of people who contacted me about this issue, they didn’t want right-to-work. It takes a lot of courage to stand up against your party. People don’t realize that. You have to take the heat from that.

Fitzwater said that some who have contacted him have complained about his campaigning for Greitens in his run for governor, knowing that the political novice made it clear he was pro-right-to-work and would sign it into law if he were elected.

“What was I supposed to do … campaign for Chris Koster?” Fitzwater asked. “I don’t think so. That was one issue I disagreed with Greitens on and I let him know that up front. I just think people are fearful right now because it’s going to be something new.

“My son-in-law called me from Texas — he works for the union down there and he asked me, ‘What are people panicking for?’ He said, when it came to Texas, the unions got stronger. Their membership grew. I’m not a pessimistic person and I hope the unions will stay strong because I believe they do some of the best work and stand behind what they do. That’s important to me.”

Rep. Mike Henderson stated that he is unequivocally against right-to-work and voted against it twice.

“I don’t think it’s good for the constituents in my district,” he said. “We have a lot of union households who earn a very good living working for the unions. I believe one of the things you have to do when you are elected to office is look at your constituents and go with them.

“I think it is going to pass. That’s going to happen. I’ve been answering many, many emails and I have been honest with my constituents for a week and a half, telling them that I understand, but the bill’s got the votes. It’s going to pass. I also told them I wouldn’t support it and I wouldn’t vote for it — and I didn’t.”

As all eyes turn to the Missouri Senate to see what happens with the bill, Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, intends to hold strong against its passage, but also sees the writing on the wall.

“I have always opposed and voted against right-to-work and paycheck protection and I will continue to do so,” he said. “I will look for ways to lessen the impact for what the right-to-work language has at this point. One of the points in there is a penalty clause for an employer who wants to maintain a union shop.

“We want to see if we might negotiate that out. If a business wants to operate as a union shop, they should have that right just as much as one that doesn’t want to operate as one. I think it’s important that we keep it a fair and balanced playing field.”

“I just think people are fearful right now because it’s going to be something new.” — Rep. Paul Fitzwater

Unions have been and continue to be a vital part of the Parkland workforce. Knowing that, local state representatives voted

Unions have been and continue to be a vital part of the Parkland workforce. Knowing that, local state representatives voted “no” on a bill to bring right-to-work to Missouri. Despite that, the bill passed handily and now moves to the Senate where it’s also expected to be approved and then signed into law by Gov. Eric Greitens.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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