Missouri House endorses 'right-to-work' measure for construction industry unions

IndustriesAssociated Press

The Missouri House endorsed a measure to bar unions from collecting fees from non-members in the construction industry Wednesday after a black Democrat said the building trades unions have failed minority workers and businesses.

Rep. Courtney Curtis, of Berkeley, said unions, specifically those representing workers in the building trades such as carpenters, electricians and brick layers, fail to include minorities and women, stopping them from getting a chance to work on big development projects in the St. Louis area. The House initially approved his bill by voice-vote and will have to give final approval before the bill moves to the Senate.

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"Minorities and people in my community clearly aren't getting a fair opportunity to achieve the American dream," Curtis said during debate. "I'm fighting for equality, even against people in my party who have let this go unchecked."

Right-to-work bars unions from collecting fees from non-members when the labor group has negotiated with an employer for such provisions. A Supreme Court ruling states that individuals can opt-out of membership dues but the union may still collect fees for services such as negotiating the contract covering members and non-members.

Other Democrats said they strongly oppose the right to work efforts, whether it applies to all businesses or only construction companies. Opponents say states with right to work laws have lower wages, more dangerous working conditions and fewer benefits for workers.

Democratic Rep. Karla May, of St. Louis, who is black, said the bill would not help minorities in the construction industry but instead weaken the rights of all workers.

"I believe that it's unfortunate that in 2015 black Americans are still fighting racism and I agree that as Missourians we need to look at all aspects of our state to address inequality and injustice," she said. "This bill is not the answer that's going to solve racism in our state."

The House may also consider a broader right to work measure that would apply to all businesses in the state. Last year, the effort failed when it fell short of the majority support needed to pass it.

Twenty four states have right-to-work laws including all of Missouri's neighbors except for Illinois and Kentucky, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The new Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, has said he wants to allow individual communities or counties in the state to opt for right-to-work, although majority Democrats in the Legislature oppose the idea. Rauner issued an executive order this week ending to a requirement that public sector workers pay dues even if they decide not to join a union. Some counties in western Kentucky have voted to make it illegal for employers to require their workers to join a labor union, although it is not clear if they have the authority to enforce the measures.

Supporters say right to work will make Missouri more attractive for businesses and that workers who are not union members should not have to pay to support them.

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