Union Station: Missouri Supreme Court voids public-sector collective bargaining law

Missouri Supreme Court voids public-sector collective bargaining law 

On June 1, the Missouri Supreme Court voted 5-2 to uphold a lower court ruling overturning a 2018 state law that exempted public safety labor unions from new requirements applying to other public-sector unions. 

House Bill No.1413 was a Republican-sponsored public-sector collective bargaining law that exempted public safety and department of corrections unions and employees from regulations such as requiring unions to obtain annual authorization from employees before withholding union dues. The bill was enacted in June 2018 with an effective date of Aug. 28. 

On Aug. 27, 2018, seven public-sector unions sued to block the new law, arguing that it was unconstitutional. On Jan. 27, 2020, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Joseph Walsh declared the law void and prohibited the state from enforcing it. According to the Supreme Court’s summary:

The circuit court granted summary judgment in the labor unions’ favor, finding various provisions of HB 1413 violated public-sector employees’ constitutional rights to collective bargaining and free speech and could not be severed from the remainder of the bill. The circuit court, therefore, permanently enjoined enforcement of HB 1413 in its entirety.

The state appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court in March 2020. The court heard arguments in November 2020 and issued its decision on June 1. Writing for the court, Judge Mary R. Russell said:

The exemption of public safety labor organizations violates principles of equal protection. The exemption of public safety labor organizations permeates throughout HB 1413 and reaches all provisions. The operation of this exemption forces this Court to declare HB 1413 void in its entirety rather than sever the offending provision. The circuit court’s judgment is affirmed.

Russell, who joined the court in 2004 after being appointed by Gov. Bob Holden (D), was joined by Chief Justice George Draper (appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon (D) in 2011), Judge Paul Wilson (appointed by Nixon in 2012), Judge Patricia Breckenridge (appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt (R) in 2007), and former Judge Laura Denvir Stith (appointed by Holden in 2001).

Judges W. Brent Powell and Zel Fischer dissented. Gov. Eric Greitens (R) appointed Powell to the court in 2017. Blunt appointed Fischer in 2008. 

Powell wrote:

This Court’s role is not to determine whether the solution raised by the legislature is perfectly suited to the problem it purports to solve; rather, as long as the reason for distinguishing between public safety and non-public safety unions is plausible, there exists a rational basis for treating these labor organizations differently under the law. … Here, the distinctions between the public employees the separate labor groups wholly or primarily serve provides plausible explanations and justifications for the dissimilar regulatory framework for public safety and nonpublic safety labor groups and is not unconstitutional.

According to research published in Ballotpedia Courts: Determiners and Dissenters, judges Powell and Fisher were the two judges who allied most often with each other in 2020, agreeing in 52 of the 58 cases the court decided that year. 

In Missouri, the governor, with the assistance of a nominating commission, appoints judges to 12-year terms. After serving at least one year on the court, appointed judges must stand for election to remain on the bench.

The case name and number are Missouri National Education Association, et al. v. Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, et al., Ferguson-Florissant School District, et al. (No. SC98412). 

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 92 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 bills by current legislative status

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

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. 

  • Illinois HB2521: This bill would allow electronic signatures on petitions submitted for selecting an exclusive bargaining representative. It would allow certification elections to be conducted electronically. It would also prohibit an employer from promising or taking action against an employee for participating in a strike.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • House passed May 30.  
  • Maryland HB894: This bill would establish collective bargaining rights for certain community college employees.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed May 28. 
  • Maryland SB746: This bill would establish collective bargaining rights for certain community college employees.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed May 28. 
  • Maryland SB9: This bill would make revisions to the collective bargaining process for employees of the University System of Maryland.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed May 28. 
  • Oregon SB580: This bill would amend the law’s definition of “employment relations” to include class size and caseload limits as mandatory collective bargaining subjects for school districts.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Second reading in House June 1.