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Collective Bargaining Shot Down in House

March 09, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 166

See the roll-call vote

JEFFERSON CITY - A major campaign by organized labor to strength its bargaining powers with government suffered a major setback in Missouri's House Tuesday.

In a key test vote, the House voted down a "collective bargaining" plan -- prompting the bill sponsor to withdraw the bill from House consideration for the time being.

The measure failed 88-73 with members voting largely along party lines.

The bill would allow government workers - including police, firefighters, teachers and university faculty - to form collective bargaining units in contract negotiations.

The bill is most likely dead this year, said sponsor Steve McLuckie, D-Kansas City. McLuckie he'll probably try again next year.

The measure faced stiff opposition from rural lawmakers who said it would drive up the cost of local government. Legislative staff had estimated the bill could cost local government up to $64 million per year in additional costs.

Columbia's three representatives voted for the bill. "We've found that all of the groups opposed to collective bargaining have been spreading misinformation," said Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia.

One of the most vocal opponents of collective bargaining is the Missouri State Teacher's Association - a group that represents a large majority of Columbia teachers.

The Missouri National Education Association and state union leaders supported the bill. Gov. Mel Carnahan said the legislation was a priority for this session.

Harlan played down the impact on Columbia schools. "First of all, the MSTA doesn't represent all of Columbia's teachers," he said. Harlan said he doubted Columbia teachers would choose to unionize if the law allowed it.

"I've had MSTA members come to me and ask me to support the bill," said Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia.

"This bill doesn't mandate collective bargaining," said Rep. Vicky Riback-Wilson, D-Columbia. Wilson noted that 30 percent of employees would have to ask for a vote to unionize - and it would then need majority support.

"I think it's a fairness issue," Wilson said. "Public employees should have a choice (to bargain collectively)."

But the MSTA disagreed. "The bar for getting collective bargaining is so low that it amounts to de facto collective bargaining," said Bruce Moe, spokesman for the MSTA.

Moe noted that just a majority of teachers who vote - instead of a majority of the whole district - need to support collective bargaining. The MSTA said this doesn't offer effective representation for the minority.

The MSTA vowed to be vigilant to ensure that the legislation didn't come back - but said they're pleased with today's vote.

"We're gratified the legislators recognized this as bad public policy," Moe said.

In addition to MSTA, the bill faced opposition from the Missouri Municipal League which represents local communities.

Several lobbyists said they were baffled when an amendment prohibiting collective bargaining units from discriminating on the basis of age, race, sex - and sexual orientation - passed the House 79-76.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Tim Van Zandt, D-Kansas City, later went down with the bill.