JEFFERSON CITY • Republican lawmakers are poised to introduce legislation that would move a statewide referendum on a new right to work law from the November general election to the August primary.
In the House, Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she was planning to introduce legislation to move up the timetable for the vote before Thursday’s deadline to introduce bills.
A similar measure is expected to be filed in the Senate. It will be up to GOP leaders in the House and Senate to decide if they want to pursue the change.
Rehder said she wanted to give voters a chance to weigh in as soon as possible.
“I think the sooner the better. We need to get this past us,” Rehder said.
The Republican-controlled Legislature sent the pro-business measure to Gov. Eric Greitens desk last year. He signed it and hailed the change as a way to boost job creation in Missouri.
Under the new law, workers cannot be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or to pay dues to a labor union.
But state labor organizations collected 300,000 signatures of people in order to put a question on the ballot asking voters if they wanted the law.
“I think it was disheartening that the unions wanted to go against what the people of Missouri wanted,” Rehder said. “This is something our governor ran on and was overwhelmingly elected governor of Missouri.”
Union members say right to work will result in worse wages, benefits and workplace safety for the state’s middle class.
Sen. Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, who is treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said Republicans wanted to change the election to August because fewer voters go the polls in August.
“When the voters signed that petition, they signed it with the understanding that the election was going to be in November,” Hummel said. “If they are moving it to August, it is strictly for political reasons, which I don’t think is right.”
Either way, Hummel said the unions will be ready to push people to the polls in either election.
“It’s certainly another thumb in the eye to voters,” Hummel said. “Something that important, I don’t know why we wouldn’t let a bigger population vote on it.”
A historical review of similar votes from the past shows it could be successful in killing off the law.
The last time Missouri voters faced a similar ballot initiative was in 1982 when they rejected a proposed law that would have allowed larger trucks on the state’s major highways.
In the 26 similar referenda dating to 1914, voters rejected all of the laws but two.
The tussle over right to work has generated big-dollar campaign contributions. Greitens’ dark money organization, A New Missouri, has pumped more than $750,000 toward the effort to keep the law from being overturned.