Missouri to limit union rules in public construction
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens

Missouri's non-union contractors will no longer have to pay union wages on public projects such as schools, libraries and police stations under a bill that Governor Eric Greitens signed into law on Tuesday.

The measure bans cities and counties from requiring union working conditions in bids for public projects partly funded by the state, using what are known as "project labor agreements." The measure threatens local governments that do so with the loss of state funding and tax credits.

The Republican governor has argued such agreements decrease competition and drive up costs to taxpayers. The measure is the latest rollback of union-backed laws pursued this year by Missouri Republicans, who gained control of the legislature and governor's mansion in 2016 for the first time in eight years.

In February, Missouri joined more than two dozen other states when it enacted "right-to-work" legislation, making it illegal to require workers to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.

"Project Labor Agreements drive up the cost of construction and kill jobs," Greitens said in a statement. "Our top priority is more jobs for the people. We're eliminating this sweetheart deal for special interests, protecting taxpayers, and creating more opportunity for all workers in Missouri."

Under the previous system, union and non-union contractors both could bid on public projects, but in cases where such agreements were used, non-union contractors had been required to abide by collective bargaining.

Officials with the AFL-CIO labor federation said such agreements protected public investment with skilled contractors and kept projects on schedule with fewer injuries or labor disputes.

Jake Hummel, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO and a Democratic state senator, said such agreements were used in only a fraction of public projects.

"What the governor has done is taken that useful tool away from local governments," he said.

At least 23 states including Nevada and West Virginia have enacted similar restrictions, mostly since 2011,  according to Jackson Brainerd, policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Missouri legislature approved the bill in April.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)