JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri House has narrowly endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment requiring that union elections be conducted by secret ballots.
The measure cleared the House on Monday on a vote of 82-76 -- the minimum needed for passage -- and headed to the Senate with less than two weeks left in the legislative session. If approved by both chambers, the proposed change to the Missouri Constitution would go before voters in a future statewide election.
Missouri is among 13 states where business groups are pushing legislation requiring secret ballots in union elections. The effort is a pre-emptive response to the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act, a bill pending in Congress that would make it easier for workers to unionize.
Republican Rep. Mike Cunningham of Rogersville sponsored the proposed Missouri amendment, which also guarantees secret balloting in elections for political office and on initiatives and referenda.
The Employee Free Choice Act would allow a majority of employees at a company to organize by signing cards, a change from current practice that allows employers to mandate secret ballot elections.
It also would boost penalties for retaliation against workers seeking to organize and call for arbitration if management and the union cannot agree on a first contract.
Unions say the federal law is needed to prevent employers from retaliating against those who seek to organize. Business groups counter that a secret ballot protects employees from being intimidated into signing cards to form unions.
Cunningham said his proposed amendment is focused on fair elections, not organized labor.
"We are not the Soviet Union, we are the United States of America. We simply cannot let the use of the secret ballot to be taken away," Cunningham said. "The secret ballot is the cornerstone of our democracy."
But House Democrats, many of whom are union members, sharply criticized the amendment. Some called it "union busting" and others said it was an effort to prevent laborers from working to get fair wages.
Rep. Tim Meadows, who is a business representative and organizer for the Teamsters, said the proposed amendment is a "smoke screen" that has nothing to do with secret ballots.
"It's to stomp the living guts out of organized labor, and workers' rights," said Meadows, D-Imperial.
Secret ballot is HJR37
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