JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Republican-led Missouri Legislature agreed Thursday to move up a public vote on whether to ban mandatory union fees, a change that could impact Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s re-election bid.

The proposal, approved by the House 96-47, reschedules the vote on right-to-work from the November midterms to Aug. 7. The Senate previously passed the measure, which does not require the governor’s approval.

Republicans passed a right-to-work bill last year, but it never took effect because unions gathered enough signatures to put the question before voters. Those petitions called for a November vote, but right-to-work supporters wanted the vote in August.

August elections generally have markedly lower voter turnout, although the referendum is expected to drive many union members to the polls. That could impact McCaskill, who will need union support in one of the most hotly contested elections in the nation.

In a nod to that campaign, Republican Rep. Kevin Engler of Farmington said keeping the vote in November would help the Democratic incumbent.

“It’s not my job to care for Claire McCaskill,” he said.

Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, said it was true that Democrats might prefer a November vote. But there were so many issues mobilizing Democratic voters that he thought the impact on McCaskill would likely be minimal.

“It could even rebound against the Republicans,” he said. “Driving a lot of people who oppose right-to-work to the polls in August will have them primed to show up in November.”

Republicans in both the House and Senate largely cast the change as a way to help businesses plan for the future.

“The sooner we can get this behind us, the sooner economic development in Missouri can go forward,” Republican Rep. Don Rone of Portageville said.

Democrats both spoke against the move while also downplaying the change’s potential impact.

“Missouri’s working families mobilized to stop it,” said Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty, referring to the right-to-work law. “They will remain engaged until the end.”

When the issue was debated in the Senate, Democrats also said a change would overrule the wishes of the more than 300,000 people who signed the original petition. Republican Rep. Dave Schatz responded that he believed people cared more about holding a vote, and weren’t necessarily picturing a specific date.

The referendum will impact state law. A related measure in the Senate would ask voters to enshrine right-to-work in the state constitution, although the Senate Minority Leader has threatened to filibuster the measure if it comes to a vote.

Republicans have wanted to rein in unions for years, and GOP supermajorities in the House and Senate are currently considering several labor-related measures.

On Thursday evening lawmakers passed a bill requiring public unions to get annual permission from workers to withhold dues from paychecks. The proposal, narrowly approved by the House 87-62, would require that public unions pay to hold recertification elections every three years, elections that would require the support of more than half of all employees. It also mandates that public labor agreements make picketing a fireable offense.

The bill would not apply to police officers, firefighters, corrections workers and other public emergency personnel.

It next heads to the governor.


The election proposal is SCR 49

The union bill is HB 1413

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