A Missouri House committee considered a bill Tuesday that could make substantive changes to the way public-sector employees negotiate contracts.
If passed, the bill could require unions to re-certify with the Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations every two years. The bill also would make several changes opponents said would harm public employees.
Missouri's state Senate is considering a pair of similar bills.
In addition to requiring labor organizations to re-certify every two years, State Rep. John Wiemann's bill would require unions representing public workers and the public bodies they negotiate with to negotiate new agreements biannually.
Wiemann, R-O'Fallon, told the House Economic Development Committee the changes would enable Missouri taxpayers to get out of bad agreements with public-sector unions.
"This bill was written to address more transparency and accountability to government unions," Wiemann told the committee.
State Rep. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis, grilled Wiemann throughout the hearing. Beck questioned why Wiemann included the requirement that contracts be negotiated between public bodies and public-sector unions every two years. Wiemann said private companies typically avoid agreements longer than that with their employees, and it protects governmental bodies from economic hardships.
"In the business world, typically you don't go into long-term agreements like that," Wiemann said. "It's not typically a wise business decision."
Sally Topping, president of St. Louis teachers union American Federation of Teachers Local 420, told the committee the union's school district can renegotiate its contract with the union in the event of financial hardships.
For three years, Topping stepped aside from teaching to work as the president of AFT Local 420. Around the state, many presidents of local teachers' union chapters serve in voluntary and part-time roles, including in Jefferson City. Topping said if negotiations become continual under the new law, it will place a further burden on those volunteer and part-time union leaders.
"Instead of having a collaborative relationship with administration, we are going to be in constant negotiation with the school board," Topping said. "You are putting a tremendous burden on all of us, and all we want to do is teach our children."
Jeanette Mott Oxford, president of Jefferson City-based advocacy group Empower Missouri, said the group believes public-sector unions are valuable because they protect vulnerable people who work for the state.
"Anything that increases the amount of bureaucracy for those unions, instead of actually doing their jobs and advocating for working conditions for workers they serve is a waste," Mott Oxford said.
Wiemann's bill would require labor organizations representing public sector workers to obtain written permission from employees each year in order to withhold union dues and other fees from members' paychecks. In January, a Missouri Senate committee considered a bill authored by state Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, which would require public employees to sign written statements each year granting unions the ability to deduct fees and union dues from their paychecks.
Hoskins' bill also would require public employees to state the amount of money unions can use for political donations. Last week, the Senate voted to advance that bill to the Senate floor.
A bill in front of the full Senate authored by state Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, would make whole-scale changes to public-sector union agreements similar to Wiemann's bill. Like Wiemann's bill, Onder's bill also requires unions to re-certify every two years; requires yearly written consent by employees for payroll deductions made by unions; and allows labor unions to hold de-certification elections at any time if requested by at least 30 percent of members.