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Committee blocks Missouri collective bargaining rule

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Republican-led legislative panel has voted to block a rule by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's administration that would allow union dues to be charged to some non-union state employees.

The committee's decision delays the rule temporarily while the issue goes before the full Legislature.

The rule on union fees is an outgrowth of a June 2001 executive order by Holden that granted collective bargaining rights to thousands of state employees.

Holden's order allowed union service fees, also called "fair share" fees, to be charged to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether the employees are union members or not. The fees are intended to compensate unions for their negotiating costs, since even non-union employees benefit from the contracts they reach. Although such fees have been included in several union contracts with state agencies, they have yet to be collected pending the state regulatory change.

Republicans have consistently opposed Holden's executive order. And last week, two union officials charged that a top aide to Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt threatened to rally Democrats against the order if the unions worked against the St. Louis congressman in Missouri's presidential primary.

On Monday, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted 6-4 along party lines to throw out the rule, with Republicans in the majority and Democrats in the minority.

The vote means the rule will be put on hold for 30 legislative working days after the session starts Jan. 7. The full House and Senate would have to pass a resolution during that time to permanently block the rule.

That resolution could be vetoed by Holden, and then a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate would be required to override the veto. Republicans control 90 of the 163 House seats and 20 of the 34 Senate seats, so overriding a veto would require some Democratic votes.

"It is a shame this committee considers state workers second-class citizens and have denied them the rights any other worker in the state would have," Holden spokeswoman Mary Still said after Monday's vote. "What they have done is simply invited litigation."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman John Russell, a staunch opponent of Holden's collective bargaining order, requested the committee hearing. He said the administration had no legal basis to issue the rule, and the rule violates a state law allowing paycheck deductions only if employees agree to them.

As the rule would be implemented, prospective state employees would have to either join the union, not join but agree to pay the negotiating dues, or not take the state job.

"What choice does that individual have? Not one choice at all," Russell said.

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, responded, "My choice is not to take that job."

Members of the panel fought over whether the hearing injected politics into a committee that should be above that, and disagreed on whether state law allows the rule change.

"Agreement implies voluntary action. Telling someone who has a starving family you can't have this job" without agreeing to withholding union fees is not voluntary, said committee chairman Rep. Richard Byrd, R-Kirkwood.

Commissioner of Administration Jacquelyn White said the proposed rule merely defines "dues," and that authorization to collect them comes from bargaining agreements some state agencies reach with unions.

"We are not forcing people to do this," she said, adding that it is just one of many criteria people must consider in deciding whether to accept a job.

About a dozen employees rallied Monday at the Capitol in favor of upholding the union service fees.

"It's really sad the Republican leadership wants to take it away from us," said Todd Wood, a case worker for the developmentally disabled. "It's well worth it in order to have a voice."


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