A Better St. Louis. Powered by Journalism.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Print
  • Email

On the trail: 'Right to work' still faces long odds in the legislature

In Economy

3:05 am on Mon, 08.19.13

Between three terms in the Missouri Senate and over two terms as lieutenant governor, it’s fair to say that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder knows how the upper chamber of the Missouri General Assembly operates.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder predicted earlier this month that the Missouri General Assembly will place
Peter Kinder's Facebook page
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder predicted earlier this month that the Missouri legislature will place "right to work" on the 2014 ballot. But that may be difficult, given the Senate power of the filibuster.

That may be why Kinder’s declaration about “right to work's” legislative prospects grabbed so much attention. At a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Chicago, the Associated Press quoted the Republican: “I believe we will pass right-to-work next year and bypass (Gov. Jay Nixon) entirely by putting it on the referendum ballot for voters.”

“Right to work,” of course, is the shorthand supporters use to describe laws barring unions and employers from requiring workers to pay union dues if a majority vote to organize. Proponents say that companies are more attracted to states that adopt the policy. 

Detractors sometimes call the proposal “right to work for less,” arguing that the goal of "right to work" is breaking organized labor's clout. They also say it would allow "freeloaders" to get the benefits of union representation without paying for it.

Kinder’s remarks were somewhat surprising as they defy conventional wisdom. Even though Republicans have supermajorities in the Missouri House and the Senate, most analysts assume that any right to work proposal would have difficulty getting out of the Missouri Senate.

That’s because a bloc of senators can often stall or kill legislation by talking a bill to death. It’s a near certainty all 10 members of the Senate Democratic caucus would participate, and that would be nearly impossible to stop without a “previous question” motion. And the Senate hasn't quashed debate with that maneuver since 2007.

Through a spokesman, Kinder declined to elaborate on his comments in Chicago. But Missouri AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Mike Louis said he's skeptical. He said in an e-mail that Kinder's statement had "more to do with assuring the CEOs, who were funding the posh event at the Palmer House, that he’s on their side." 

Louis went on to say that “we have had continual dialogue with state representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle who remain opposed to so-called 'right to work' and other attacks on middle-class Missourians.” That’s likely a reference to several Republican legislators who won his group's endorsement last election.

“While special interest groups like ALEC keep pushing unfair and dangerous legislation like 'right to work' bills, it is important to remember that here in Missouri many members of both parties recognize that these proposed laws are unnecessary and allow the government to interfere unfairly in the freedom of businesses and their employees,” Louis said.

For his part, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said in a statement to the Beacon that "we are set to meet as a caucus later this fall to discuss what policies we will pursue during the upcoming session.”

“I believe labor reform may be a topic of conversation, and I will listen to my colleagues over the next few months as we discuss ideas to put Missouri on the path to greater economic prosperity,” said Dempsey, who was endorsed by Missouri AFL-CIO last year during his unopposed re-election bid.

Jones, Diehl see issue as priority

While "right to work's" prospects in the Missouri Senate are murky, two high-ranking GOP House members are looking at the issue.

In separate Politically Speaking podcasts, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town Country, both said "right to work" would be a priority for the Missouri House.

Tim Jones
Tim Jones

After noting that six of Missouri’s eight bordering neighbors have adopted "right to work," Jones said the state “does definitely not exist in an oasis or a vacuum.”

“We really have a decision to make,” Jones said. “We can either look toward the states that are surrounding us, that are lowering their tax structure and either becoming 'right to work' states or maintaining that status. Or we can look to states in the Rust Belt to our east and to our north that are losing jobs, losing population and lowering and shrinking their economies.”

Jones added that “right to work” would have a good chance of passing in the Missouri House, especially since bills altering prevailing wage and direct depositing laws made it to the governor’s desk.

“It’s going to be on the agenda for next year,” he said.

Gina Walsh
Gina Walsh

When told that Jones was “serious” about pursuing "right to work" next year, state Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said during her appearance on the Politically Speaking podcast “that statement there frightens me in the first place. He wasn’t serious last time?”

Walsh – who is also the president of Missouri State Building & Construction Trades Council – previously told the Beacon she would be willing to “fall on the sword” to stop "right to work." She also said that people aiming to curb organized labor’s clout have painted an inaccurate picture of the movement.

“We are way past an age when folks think that labor leaders are big thugs that drive fat cars and have fat wallets. I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen both sides of it and I grew up with the labor leaders of today,” Walsh said. “And they’re young men with college degrees and sometimes young women. … They’re middle-class working people. And they just want to provide their members with a nice middle-class living.”

After noting that Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has been a supporter of "right to work" for some time, Jones added “I don’t yet know how far the Senate’s willing to go.”

“But I’m willing to give them the opportunity,” he added.

Born to lose?

Kinder’s declaration that the legislature will send right the work for the voters to decide is a reflection of political realities.

Even with 24 members of the Senate and 109 members of the House, Republicans probably won’t have the votes to override Nixon's inevitable veto. Louis predicted that “a lot of Republicans don’t want their head in the guillotine when they have to vote on these issues.”

But even a ballot initiative is fraught with risk.  For one thing, a "right to work" ballot item failed decisively in 1978. If the legislature does put the issue up for a public vote, that could mobilize organized labor to the polls next year -- in the process hurting Republican legislative candidates, even those supporting labor’s position.

“Probably the only way that they could do anything with it is put it on the ballot,” Louis said. “I just don’t think there’s even a willingness of a lot of the other side of the aisle to do that.”

Still, Louis added “I don’t want to be in a position where it sounds like I’m confident about anything.” Walsh said “if I would say that we’re strong enough, I would be letting my guard down.”

Their trepidation may be warranted, especially if Republicans can capture the governor’s office in 2016 election. That may be why Attorney General Chris Koster urged building up Democratic ranks in the legislature. Not doing that, said Koster, could be “the difference between a Missouri that shoulders the strength to resist 'right to work' and one that does not." 

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

No Comments

Join The Beacon

When you register with the Beacon, you can save your searches as news alerts, rsvp for events, manage your donations and receive news and updates from the Beacon team.

Register Now

Already a Member

Getting around the new site

Take a look at our tutorials to help you get the hang of the new site.

Most Discussed Articles By Beacon Members

Conference of American nuns will mull response to Vatican charges

In Nation

7:55 am on Fri, 08.03.12

Meeting in St. Louis next week, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will have its first opportunity as an assembled group to consider what to do after the Vatican issued a mandate for change this spring. It calls on the conference to reorganize and more strictly observe church teachings.

The 'free' Zoo

In Commentary

7:51 am on Tue, 05.22.12

When a family of four goes to the St. Louis Zoo, they can be forgiven for not knowing it will cost them $60, $72 if they park. If they can't pay, the alternative is to tell the kids they can't do what kids do at the zoo.

Featured Articles

House sends Boeing incentive bill to Nixon

In Economy

12:55 pm on Fri, 12.06.13

The Missouri House easily passed legislation aimed at attracting production of the 777x, a move that wraps up a legislative special session that saw little suspense and few surprises. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, who has strongly supported the legislation.

Gandhi inspired Mandela on South Africa's 'Long Road to Freedom'

In World

10:10 am on Fri, 12.06.13

Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, was a towering moral figure of the 20th century -- along with Mahatma Gandhi. It was no coincidence that Gandhi and Mandela, whose paths never crossed directly, both embarked on their campaigns against discrimination in South Africa. It was when Mandela won election as South Africa’s first black president that Gandhi's influence became apparent.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Encore: Dead before death

In Performing Arts

12:58 am on Fri, 12.06.13

For years , the author was certain he would never come to appreciate The Grateful Dead, let alone be a Deadhead. But little by little, he's come around. He talks about his conversion and relates a real evolution: by a musician who went on to play with the Schwag, a Dead cover band.

Featured Articles

Schlichter honored with St. Louis Award

In Region

4:57 pm on Tue, 12.03.13

The attorney has founded Arch Grants, which brings together nonprofit philanthropy and commercially viable opportunitiesto fund new business startups, and Mentor St. Louis, which finds adult mentors for elementary students in the St. Louis Public School System. He was the driving force behind the state's historic tax credit program.

BioGenerator sets open house to celebrate new digs for entrepreneurs-in-residence

In InnovationSTL

12:29 pm on Tue, 11.12.13

BioSTL's BioGenerator organization is on the move as its entrepreneurs-in-residence find a new home in 4,300 square feet of office and conference space in an old automobile factory. The blossoming program, which helps BioGenerator's portfolio companies to get off the ground, continues to pay dividends within the growing biotech community.

Ambassadors aim to soften rough landing for St. Louis immigrants

In InnovationSTL

6:34 am on Fri, 11.08.13

The St. Louis Mosaic Project is set to hold an orientation for its new ambassadors -- dozens of foreign and native-born volunteers who aim to help make the community a more welcoming place for those from other nations. Participants will be expected to do everything from visiting local restaurants serving international cuisine to having dinner with an immigrant to the area.

Recent Articles

More Articles

Innovation and entrepreneurial activity are on the rise in St. Louis, especially in bioscience, technology and alternative energy. The Beacon's InnovationSTL section focuses on the people who are part of this wave, what they're doing and how this is shaping our future. To many St. Louisans, this wave is not yet visible. InnovationSTL aims to change that. We welcome you to share your knowledge, learn more about this vibrant trend and discuss its impact.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Featured Articles

Featured Events:

More About The Beacon Home