By Kevin McDermott
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Thursday vetoed a controversial "right-to-work" bill, calling it a threat to unionized workers and wages.
"For generations, the ability of workers to join together and bargain collectively for fair wages, and training has lifted the living standards of families everywhere both union and non-union," Nixon told a frenzied crowd of unionized sheetmetal workers and others at a St. Louis union training facility.
He credited unions with providing U.S. workers with "a ticket to the Middle Class and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream."
He vowed to spend "the next 105 days" -- roughly the time between now and the end of the fall veto session -- solidifying support to sustain his veto.
"Missourians have already spoken on this," said Nixon, referring to the state's 1978 vote against a right-to-work referendum, "and we're going to speak one more time."
Nixon had previously said he would veto the measure, which had sought to make Missouri the nation's 26th right-to-work state.
Lawmakers could, in theory, override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber during the September veto session. But the original legislation passed with fewer votes than are necessary to override.
The right-to-work debate, here as around the nation, centers on whether unions should be able to continue collecting fees from nonmembers to cover collective bargaining and other costs.
Proponents of right-to-work legislation say those kinds of rules unfairly force workers who don't support unions to fund them. Union defenders say such rules are necessary in collective bargaining, and that right-to-work movements are thinly veiled attempts at union-busting.
Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill at an event in Kansas City Thursday morning. He conducted a similar event Thursday afternoon before hundreds of workers at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 training facility in St. Louis -- an event that had the noisy tone of a political campaign rally.
"House Bill 116 is a war on your pay check," Nixon told the crowd, adding, to a thunderous round of cheers: "It cannot become law!"
House Bill 116 is the legislative designation of the bill.
To override the veto, the Republican-controlled Legislature would need 23 votes in the Senate and 109 in the House. The Senate earlier this year passed the measure 21-13 and the House passed it 92-66.
Republicans swiftly condemned the veto.
Nixon is "putting his personal politics ahead of a widely supported reform that will help Missouri attract jobs and provide more opportunities for our workers," Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is considering a run for governor next year, said in a statement.
Declared GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Parson, a state senator, echoed that sentiment. "If I were Governor, I would sign this common sense legislation," he said in a statement.
Former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, also a declared GOP gubernatorial candidate, called the veto "a missed opportunity to open Missouri's borders for new jobs and increased economic growth," and urged the General Assembly to override the veto.
"No real surprise today," Daniel Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said of Nixon's veto. "If we want to try to override it, we've got our work cut out for us. It's going to require a major effort.
"You never know," he added. "But it's no easy task."
Mehan disputed Nixon's assessment of right-to-work legislation as damaging unions and causing wage reductions.
"It attracts investment, it attracts opportunity," he said. "It's more about freedom to join [a union] or not. It's up to the individual, or it should be."
Nixon signed the actual veto in Jefferson City Thursday morning. He then traveled to Kansas City later in the morning, and St. Louis in the afternoon, for ceremonial signings before labor union supporters, using a Missouri Highway Patrol plane to traverse the state, according to his office.
The bill is HB116.
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