NEWS
03/18/2016 18:20 EDT | Updated 03/19/2017 01:12 EDT

Missouri governor vetoes bill on union fees

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday vetoed legislation requiring public employees to annually reauthorize paying their union dues through paycheque withholdings, setting up a confrontation with Republican leaders who say they have enough votes to overrule him.

This is the third time the Democratic governor has vetoed legislation that would change the rules for unions, which represent about 257,000 Missouri workers — nearly 10 per cent of the state's workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figure is for all unionized workers and does not give a breakdown for private companies and public entities. Nixon has vetoed 138 bills since he took office in 2009 and 34 have been overridden by the Legislature so the measures became law.

Nixon vetoed a similar bill in 2013, which lawmakers failed to override. And last year, lawmakers failed to overturn his veto of so-called "right-to-work" legislation that would bar private-sector unions from requiring workers to pay fees, despite GOP supermajorities in both chambers.

The Democratic governor said this year's bill piles unnecessary burdens onto public unions. He pointed to a requirement for unions to retain internal information as searchable, electronic records and allow employees to sue if they cannot access them.

Republican supporters describe the measure as "paycheque protection," arguing it would make unions more responsive to members' needs and opinions.

Nixon called such concerns a pretext to interfere with unions, noting that public workers can already end their paycheque withholdings at any time.

"The animus towards those organizations underlying this legislation is clear," he wrote in his veto message.

Nixon also condemned the bill for "inexplicably" exempting first-responders from the requirement to reauthorize paycheque withholdings.

"The legislation picks and chooses who to 'protect' based on political calculations rather than a rational basis," he wrote in a veto message to legislators.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan said the current system of withholding dues from workers' paychecks is a "racket" that benefits politicians the unions support.

Lawmakers would need a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override Nixon's veto. The Republican-led House and Senate each barely met that threshold when passing the bill earlier this month. Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis and Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, two St. Louis Democrats who voted for the bill, both explained their support by saying unions discriminated against black workers.

The bill has already lost one initial Republican supporter. Rep. Anne Zerr of St. Charles voted for the legislation when it first passed the House. After the Senate inserted wording making it easier to sue a union for not keeping adequate records, she changed her vote to a no.

Lawmakers are on spring break, and they are to return to work March 29. Their session runs through in mid-May.

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Union paycheque bill HB 1891.

Online:

House: http://www.house.mo.gov

Governor: http://governor.mo.gov

Adam Aton, The Associated Press