Missouri Supreme Court strikes down state law barring public-sector workers from picketing

On March 31, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision striking down a state law barring public-sector workers from picketing. Picketing encompasses any form of protest against an employer, including, but not limited to, striking. Neither court’s decision had any bearing on Missouri’s prohibition against public-sector worker strikes.

Who were the parties to the suit?

Rebecca Karney and Johnny Miller, dispatchers for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and members of the Communication Workers of America, were the plaintiffs. The defendants were the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations; Todd Smith, chairman of the Missouri Board of Mediation; the government of Jackson County, Missouri, and Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forté.

What was at issue?

Section 105.585(2) of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, enacted in 2018, requires any labor agreement negotiated between a public entity and a union to prohibit employees from striking and picketing. At the time of enactment, Missouri was a Republican trifecta, meaning Republicans held the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The text of the statute reads as follows:

Every labor agreement shall expressly prohibit all strikes and picketing of any kind. A strike shall include any refusal to perform services, walkout, sick-out, sit-in, or any other form of interference with the operations of any public body. Every labor agreement shall include a provision acknowledging that any public employee who engages in any strike or concerted refusal to work, or who pickets over any personnel matter, shall be subject to immediate termination of employment[.][1]

The plaintiffs alleged Section 105.585(2) violated the following sections of the Missouri Constitution:

The plaintiffs filed suit in the Jackson County Circuit Court on Aug. 23, 2018. On March 12, 2019, Judge Jim Kanatzar ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and enjoined the state from prohibiting picketing. The decision was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on Jan. 14, 2020.

How did the high court rule?

The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the circuit court’s ruling. Judge Zel Fischer wrote the following in the court’s opinion:

Section 105.585(2)’s prohibition against ‘picketing of any kind’ fails to recognize there are matters of public concern about which public employees retain their constitutional right to comment on so long as their speech does not impede the efficiency of the state services performed through state employees. However, the remainder of § 105.585(2) is in accord with constitutional limitations on public employee speech. Severance of the phrase ‘and picketing of any kind’ is appropriate and renders the provision constitutional.[1]

About the Missouri Supreme Court: There are seven seats on the Missouri Supreme Court. When a seat on the court becomes vacant, the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission submits three names to the governor who in turn selects a replacement. If the governor does not make a selection, the responsibility falls to the commission. After one year on the court, an appointed judge must run in the next general election to retain the seat. Supreme court judges serve 12-year terms and must win their retention elections to remain on the court. Retention elections are nonpartisan. The bench currently includes four judges who were initially appointed by Democratic governors and three who were initially appointed by Republicans.

Case information

The case name and number are Karney v. Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (SC97833).

What we’ve been reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 93 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

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Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state, then by bill number. The partisan affiliation of bill sponsor(s) is also provided.

  • Vermont S0254: This bill would require public employers to provide unions with employee contact information. It would provide for the automatic deduction of union dues from members’ paychecks, and it would permit unions to meet with new employees to provide them with information regarding union membership.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs reported favorably with amendments April 9.