Union Station: Missouri Court of Appeals upholds trial court ruling ordering state to resume payroll deductions for Department of Corrections employees

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Missouri Court of Appeals upholds trial court ruling ordering state to resume payroll deductions for Department of Corrections employees

On Dec. 6, 2022, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals upheld a September 2021 ruling by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Edward Beetem in which Beetem ordered the Missouri Office of Administration to resume payroll deductions for Department of Corrections employees. The Office of Administration issued rules in 2019 and 2020 suspending and denying, respectively, payroll deductions for the Missouri Corrections Officers Association.


The Missouri Corrections Officers Association (MOCOA) and two corrections officers filed a petition for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the Missouri Office of Administration in the Cole County Circuit Court on March 24, 2020. 

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson, “The state said it wouldn’t collect dues because the workers were no longer in a union since the contract had expired. The state also argued it was not recognizing the organization because it allowed about 100 retirees to be members.” 

On Sept. 27, 2021, Judge Jon Edward Beetem ordered the Office of Administration to “[resume] payroll deductions for any current employees who were having MOCOA dues deducted from their pay right before December 9, 2019, pursuant to the authorizations they had signed …” and to “accept new MOCOA dues deduction authorizations signed by employees in the future, and begin and continue deductions for those employees, pursuant to their authorizations.” 

The Office of Administration defendants appealed to the Western District Court of Appeals on Oct. 28, 2021. The Western District is the largest of three court of appeals districts. The court of appeals, Missouri’s intermediate appellate court, hears appeals from the state’s circuit courts. 

The oral argument for this case was held on Nov. 2, 2022. 

About the ruling

Chief Judge Gary D. Witt, Judge Mark D. Pfeiffer, and Judge Thomas N. Chapman affirmed Beetem’s ruling on Dec. 6, 2022. Witt wrote:

“The trial court … [found] that the Emergency Rule and Final Rule (collectively, “Rules”) issued by [the Missouri Office of Administration (“OA”)] were unconstitutional because they infringed on [Missouri Corrections Officers Association, Inc. (“MOCOA”)]’s constitutional rights to organize and to bargain collectively, freedoms of speech and association, and equal protection. The trial court also found that OA’s decisions in December 2019 to suspend payroll deduction and in March 2020 to deny payroll deductions for MOCOA were unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. … We affirm the judgment of the trial court. …

“The record shows that OA’s interpretation of the regulations and its stated reasons for amending the regulations was a moving target, supporting the trial court’s determination that its rationale was pretextual and its decision to suspend MOCOA’s payroll dues deductions applied the regulation in an arbitrary and capricious manner. …

“The practical result of the Rule is to give OA an unfair advantage in the negotiations by starving the labor union for dues funding during the contract negotiations process. OA has failed to meet its burden of showing that its action was narrowly tailored to further a compelling governmental interest. 

“The Rules allowed employee associations that do not collectively bargain to benefit from payroll deduction, but prohibits employee associations that do collectively bargain from receiving the benefits of payroll deduction. And because the right to organize and to bargain collectively is a fundamental right protected by the Missouri constitution, laws that discriminate on the basis of the exercise of that right are subject to strict scrutiny.”

According to the Missouri Independent’s Rudi Keller, “The union did not seek, nor was it awarded, any tax money to replace the funds lost while dues have not been withheld.” 

A spokesman for the Missouri attorney general’s office said the state was “evaluating the decision and determining next steps.” Cases decided by the Western District Court of Appeals may be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. 

Gov. Jay Nixon (D) appointed Witt and Pfeiffer to the court. Gov. Mike Parson (R) appointed Chapman. Court of appeals judges are selected through the Missouri Nonpartisan Selection of Judges Court Plan.

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