March 6, 2014 9:45:03 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi lawmakers are moving ahead with a package of bills to restrict some labor union organizing and picketing practices.
The House passed a package of five bills Wednesday, four of which will return to the Senate for more work because they were amended by the House.
The other, Senate Bill 2689, would stop local governments from restricting employer background checks. It will go to Gov. Phil Bryant for his consideration if House members don't reconsider it.
Opponents of the bills question whether some are legal under federal law and whether others would have any practical effect. All are being supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"They're over there passing laws to keep people beat down when they make a pitiful wage," said Robert Shaffer, president of the Mississippi AFL-CIO union federation.
Senate Bill 2473 would make it illegal to coerce a business into staying neutral in a union drive or allowing workers to choose union representation by signing cards instead of by secret ballot. It's not clear what would constitute coercion, but businesses could sue anyone they believed engaged in it.
Union supporters have been pushing Nissan Motor Co. to declare its neutrality in an attempt by the United Auto Workers to unionize the Japanese automaker's Canton plant. Supporters have said the bill isn't specifically aimed at Nissan.
Senate Bill 2653 tries to restrict mass picketing of a residence or place of business. It says pickets would be legal as long as they weren't violent and didn't block entrances. But it also makes getting an injunction against picketing easier.
Rep. Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, argued for the bill by saying it "maintains our state as a known right-to-work state."
But Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg, said it's unneeded. "I've been a union person all my life," he said. "I've even picketed. As of today, most pickets are peaceful."
Senate Bill 2797, as rewritten by the House, appears to require legislative approval any time an employer or a union agrees to waive some rights as part of a "labor peace agreement."
Shaffer said he was concerned that state officials would try to use the law to prevent companies recruited by the Mississippi Development Authority from using union labor to build their plants.
When Toyota Motor Corp. built its plant in Blue Springs, it signed a project labor agreement covering union workers. But Shaffer said that then-Gov. Haley Barbour tried to prevent the use of union labor.