Missouri Supreme Court weighs challenge to public-sector labor laws

Missouri Supreme Court weighs challenge to public-sector labor laws           

On Nov. 16, the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a challenge to HB1413, a 2018 bill that made several changes to the state’s public-sector labor laws.

Who are the parties to the suit?  

The plaintiffs are: 

  • Missouri Education Association
  • Ferguson-Florissant Education Association
  • Hazelwood Association of Support Personnel
  • Service Employees International Union Local 1
  • Laborers’ International Union of North American Local 42
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 610
  • International Union of Operating Engineers Local 148

The defendants include several state and municipal government entities, including the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and the State Board of Mediation. 

What’s at issue?   

On June 1, 2018, Gov. Eric Greitens (R) signed HB1413 into law. The omnibus legislation made several changes to the state’s public-sector labor laws: 

  • Requires annual authorization for union dues payroll deductions.
  • Requires unions to file annual financial reports and make financial records available to the public. 
  • Requires unions to submit to certification elections before the State Board of Mediation in order to be recognized as the representative of a group of public employees. Requires unions to be recertified every three years. 
  • Makes all collective bargaining agreements subject to certain limitations, including:
    • “Management reserving the right to hire, discipline, and discharge employees [and] reserving the right to make and amend reasonable work rules”
    • “Prohibiting all strikes and picketing”
    • “Extending the duty of fair representation to all employees of the bargaining unit”
    • “Prohibiting labor organization employees from accepting paid time by a public body for conducting labor organization business with certain exceptions”
    • “Providing for the modification of the agreement in the event of a budget shortfall”

The plaintiff unions sued in state court, alleging “HB1413’s draconian restrictions on public-sector collective bargaining are incompatible with Article I, Section 29 of the [Missouri] Constitution, which expressly guarantees the right of employees ‘to organize and bargain collectively’ and to do so ‘through representatives of their own choosing.’” On Jan. 27, Judge Joseph Walsh of the St. Louis County Circuit Court ruled in the unions’ favor. The state appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

What are the arguments?

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), in his brief on behalf of the state defendants, wrote: 

[No] provision of HB 1413 violates employees’ right to ‘bargain collectively’ with ‘representatives of their own choosing’ under Article I, § 29. Contrary to the Constitution’s plain language and this Court’s cases, the trial court fundamentally misunderstood Section 29 by interpreting it to guarantee certain outcomes of bargaining, instead of the process of negotiation. The provisions of HB1413 do not affect any public employee’s ability to engage in collective bargaining, and they affirmatively protect employees’ ability to choose their own representatives through meaningful, democratically accountable procedures. [emphasis in the original]

Jason Walta, a National Education Association lawyer and lead counsel for the plaintiffs, wrote in his brief

Not only are HB 1413’s burdens severe, they are discriminatory. Unlike any other regulation of public-sector collective bargaining in existence, HB 1413 grants or withholds public employees’ bargaining and speech rights based entirely on the identity of the union those employees decide to associate with and select as their bargaining representative. If they select a union that the Legislature sought to favor, HB 1413 imposes no restrictions on their collective bargaining or speech rights. If they select a union the Legislature sought to penalize, HB1413 renders collective bargaining a farce and saddles them and their union with onerous restrictions on speech and association.

Case and court information   

The case name and number are Missouri National Education Association v. Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, SC98412.

The Missouri Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. Democratic governors appointed four of the court’s seven justices: Chief Justice George Draper and Justices Mary Rhodes Russell, Laura Denvir Stith, and Paul C. Wilson. Republican governors appointed the three remaining justices: Zel Fischer, Patricia Breckenridge, and Wesley Brent Powell.  

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bill by state

We are currently tracking 102 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. 

Number of relevant bill by current legislative status

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

Recent legislative actions

No legislative actions have been taken on relevant bills since our last issue.