February 26, 2015

Missouri Senate leader opens up about ‘right to work’ stance

One of the most potentially volatile issues facing the Missouri legislature was passed out of the House last week, in right-to-work. Last week the leader of the Missouri Senate told reporters he has doubts right-to-work can become law over a likely veto by Governor Jay Nixon (D), but said he would move it through the legislative process in the Senate.

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

On Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) elaborated a great deal about his feelings on an issue he doesn’t actively push, but says he won’t stand in the way of.

Those feelings stem in part from relationships he says he’s grown up with and represented for the past 15 years, “and a number of them are union members or from union families,” he said. “Whereas I’ve worked on a lot of legislation that I never would have had the support of labor on but I thought was an issue that needed to be addressed, like second injury fund or things that we’ve done in workers’ compensation, those relationships have never gotten in the way of me doing my job and they won’t in this case.”

Dempsey reiterated he is not a staunch supporter of right-to-work.

“It’s not been one that I’ve been excited to take on, and it’s for a couple of different reasons,” Dempsey said. “One is I believe that there’s a reason for the formation of the unions. There were people back in the 1900s that exploited workers. Those people needed a voice and the unions helped provide, really, the impetus for an improvement in working conditions that we all enjoy. I am appreciative of that because I know that I am the beneficiary of many of the laws that are in place that they advocated for.”

Of the arguments made by right-to-work supporters, Dempsey said, “I also look at the state of Missouri and this competition that we have both with other states, and really internationally, to try to lure companies to Missouri, to help those who are in Missouri grow, and to help people who are looking at the cost of doing business in other states but they’re located here, and give them reasons to stay here. There are projects that I believe Missouri has, I believe, lost out on and sometimes the very first question asked was, ‘Are we a right-to-work state?’ So, we’ve been disqualified from those projects.”

Dempsey says right-to-work isn’t the only issue he says is raised when discussing Missouri’s business climate.

“There are also other issues related to the level of taxation in the state of Missouri, our legal climate: I think we’ve got one of the worst legal climates in the country. The regulatory hurdles that someone has to cross over in order to make investment. Having an educated workforce,” said Dempsey.

Right-to-work’s passage out of the Missouri House last week was historic. It marked the first time the issue had been passed out of either of the state’s legislative chambers. Dempsey and others have noted, however, the long road the issue has before becoming law.

“With a Democrat governor and the numbers that I saw in the House and where I believe we are in the Senate, I think we could possibly pass the right-to-work bill, but I don’t think in any way, shape, or form, we’d be able to override a governor’s veto,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey said he hasn’t decided how he will vote on right-to-work, but says when he has sought leadership positions in the House and Senate he has recognized that many of his caucus’ members support it.

Dempsey said, “I’ve not been someone who’s been an unabashed supporter of right-to-work, so in conversations I would have with them in their districts I said, ‘Listen, I know this issue’s important for you. It’s a tough one for me but I won’t use my position to block something you care about.’ As far as the Senate President position meant, it meant that there would be a committee that would be able to seriously consider it and potentially move it forward out of committee, and then ultimately it would mean that I be willing to place it on the calendar for consideration by the body on the floor of the Senate, and so I’m committed to doing both of those things.”

Dempsey also acknowledged the divisiveness of right-to-work and the lasting impact that could have on the still young session.

“There’s a lot of stuff we want to get done this year. Things that are important, like the student transfer bill that we’re working on this week,” said Dempsey. “I don’t want to blow this place up.”

Dempsey said he thinks “we all recognize” that supporters would have to use a “previous question” for the Senate to vote on right-to-work. A previous question is a motion that shuts off debate and forces a vote on an issue. A PQ, as it’s often called, is common in the state House, but in the Senate, where members are expected to respect one another’s right to speak on an issue, the motion is used rarely and can sour relations between factions.

Dempsey suggested he would be reluctant to see such a motion used, “On something that, and this is my opinion, that I have serious doubts about its ability to get done this year.”

Earlier story:  Missouri legislative leaders on chances of ‘right to work’ this year

Missouri legislative leaders on chances of ‘right to work’ this year

A “right to work” bill has been sent to the state Senate, but its leadership acknowledges doubt that it can become law this year.

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

A right-to-work law would bar workers from having to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

For the first time in Missouri a right-to-work bill has been passed out of a legislative body, having passed out of the state House. If that is passed by the Senate it is likely Governor Nixon would veto it, and House backers would need roughly 17 more votes to overturn a veto.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard (R-Joplin) says that’s disappointing.

“I’d have been more anxious if it was 109 or 110,” said Richard. “We’ll see how it proceeds if it gets out of [a senate] committee.”

Senate President Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) says the vote total in the House creates doubt the bill can become law this year.

“But many of my members, Republican senate members, are in support of right-to-work, believe it’s important from an economic development standpoint for the state to be a right-to-work state,” Dempsey told reporters. “I’m going to send it to the Small Business Committee and they’ll work on it. Should it get voted out of committee I’ll put the bill on the calendar at some point and then it’s anybody’s guess as to what happens.”

House leaders also acknowledge the bill might not become law this year, but House Speaker John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country) says its passage this year is historic and sends a strong message.

“Right-to-work will come to Missouri at some point in time. I think it’s inevitable,” Diehl said. “Hopefully we can get it done this year, but if not this year it’s going to keep being an issue until it crosses the finish line.”

See how House members voted to send the ‘right-to-work’ bill to the Senate

How they voted: Missouri House sends ‘right to work’ to the Senate

The Missouri House has voted 91-64 to send so-called “right to work” legislation to the state Senate, after voting 92-66 Wednesday night to end the amendment process and “perfect” the bill.

One state representative who voted for the perfection of the bill Wednesday was counted as “absent” for the vote on Thursday.

See our story from Wednesday’s vote here.

See the vote from Wednesday night here, and the vote Thursday below:

How they voted - right-to-work 02-12-2015

Click here to see how your state representative voted using the House’s representative search

Missouri House gives initial approval to ‘right-to-work’ bills

The Missouri House has given initial approval to two so-called “right to work” proposals. One would bar the collection by unions of dues from non-union workers, another would extend the same prohibition only in the construction industry.

Representative Courtney Allen Curtis (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Courtney Allen Curtis (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Opponents say such prohibitions allow non-union workers to enjoy the benefits of union representation without paying for it, and say it would weaken unions and cause wages to decrease.

Some dismiss the latter bill, sponsored by Representative Courtney Curtis (D-Berkeley), as not constitutional because it would treat the workers in the construction industry differently from those in others.

Curtis said his legislation was meant to get construction trade unions to better represent minorities and women and enable them to get better jobs.

“Given that the building trades haven’t been able to institute equality on their own, this is providing them more of a push: a push off the edge actually,” said Curtis. “What this will do is starve them of the resources that they need to pay themselves the handsome salaries that they have and it will force them to provide customer service to their members, given that not everybody will have to pay money to them … they’ll actually have to go to the minorities and say, ‘Hey, what can we do to keep you inside and to keep you paying those dues?'”

Right-to-work legislation received first-round approval in the House last year but fell short of the number of votes needed for a constitutional majority. Wednesday the bill sponsored by Representative Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) was adopted with 92 votes in favor: 10 more than is necessary to pass it out of the chamber.

“That’s a great total,” said Burlison.

See how your state representative voted on Burlison’s right-to-work bill

Representative Eric Burlison (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Eric Burlison (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Burlison, who also sponsored the bill last year, says the greater vote total this year was due to supporters feeling emboldened.

“Last year what we saw was that with an issue like that being the first time through and being such a bold issue, this issue is always wrapped up in fear and the opposition uses fear and sometimes intimidation unfortunately for their side,” Burlison told Missourinet. “What I think we saw is that those people who voted for it last time, at the end of the day the world didn’t end and what we were able to see is that people, when you really break down the issue, they know it’s the right decision for Missouri.

House Speaker John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country) confirms the chamber will vote Thursday on whether to send the bill to the Senate.

Supporters would need 109 votes in the House, however, to overturn a veto by Governor Jay Nixon (D) if the legislation would reach that point. Nixon told reporters Wednesday he did not know what specific language is in the House bill but added, “I haven’t seen a right-to-work bill I would ever sign.”

‘Right to work’ debate anticipated in Missouri House today

The Missouri House is expected to debate today bills that would make it the latest right-to-work state.

John Diehl addresses the media the morning after his caucus was extended to a 118-member majority in the Missouri House.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker John Diehl leads a 117-member Republican supermajority in the Missouri House. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, wants to see Missouri pass a so-called ‘right to work’ law, which would bar unions from collecting fees from non-member workers. He said Missouri is competing with six neighboring states that have such a law.

“If you look at how much of the state’s economy is on the border of another state, you would realize that on a daily basis, Missouri’s city’s compete with neighboring states for jobs and for companies relocating,” said Diehl.

Diehl said some employers won’t consider coming to Missouri because it isn’t a right-to-work state.

“In order to be competitive in today’s economy you need to give workers freedom and give workers options on where they want to work,” said Diehl.

Opponents say right-to-work laws allow non-union members to enjoy the benefits of union membership without paying for them, and say the bill would weaken unions and that would lead to lower wages.

At question is whether supporters have enough votes to pass Right-to-Work over a veto by Governor Jay Nixon (D). There are many Republicans in the House who don’t support it.

The House has two right-to-work bills to consider, plus a third sponsored by Representative Courtney Curtis (D-Berkeley) that would apply only to the construction industry.

Earlier stories:

House members consider making Missouri a so-called ‘right to work’ state

‘Right to work’ backers, opponents both see win in House vote (from 2014)