- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri local governments would no longer be able to require union working conditions for public construction projects under a bill passed Thursday by the Republican-led Legislature.

Counties, cities and other local governments currently have the option to issue bid requirements mandating union working conditions for contractors if less than half a project’s funds come from the state. The bill, which passed the House 104-52, would prohibit that.

The legislation also wouldn’t allow local governments to give preferential treatment to union contractors. Governments that violate those provisions would lose state funding and tax credits for two years.

Supporters argue ending project labor agreements will give non-union contractors more opportunities in bidding for public construction jobs and lower the cost of those projects.

O’Fallon Republican Rep. John Wiemann said the measure will “level the playing field for all contractors.”

The policy likely will become law despite objections primarily from Democrats, who say so-called project labor agreements ensure quality and timeliness in public works projects.

New Republican Gov. Eric Greitens called for the policy change during his January State of the State address as part of his pro-business agenda. He said union-only contracts “drive up the costs of construction and slow down important projects in our communities.”

The measure is primarily supported by Republicans, though seven GOP House members sided with all but one Democrat in voting against the bill. Senators approved it 23-9 earlier in the session, largely on party lines.

House Democrats argued during Thursday debate that the measure would lower wages and lead to low-quality workmanship on public buildings. It’s also opposed by unions.

The legislation “takes away a valuable tool for public entities that need to get jobs done and have the most highly-skilled workers,” said St. Louis Democratic Rep. Doug Beck, a member of a pipefitters union.

Fellow St. Louis Democratic Rep. Clem Smith said the measure will take away local governments’ options.

Greitens has 15 days to take action on the legislation.

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Associated Press writer Katie Kull contributed to this report.

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