Bargaining rights for University of Missouri graduate students upheld

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MISSOURI’S SUPREME COURT Although the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the curators’ appeal settles the question of whether graduate assistants enjoy collective bargaining rights, whether the Mizzou assistants can form a single union remains to be determined because of a quirk in Missouri’s Public Sector Labor Law, which sets forth the rules governing collective bargaining for government entities but excludes certain classifications of workers, including teachers, from being covered by those rules.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Oct. 29 declined to hear the University of Missouri Board of Curators’ appeal of a recent state appellate court decision upholding the constitutional right of graduate assistants to unionize. The state high court refused to take the case in a one-sentence order.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District unanimously ruled in July that graduate assistants are considered “employees” under a state constitutional provision guaranteeing the rights of employees to collectively bargain with their employer.

Graduate assistants at the University of Missouri-Columbia voted to unionize in April 2016, but the curators refused to recognize their union, prompting a lawsuit.

Although the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the curators’ appeal settles the question of whether graduate assistants enjoy collective bargaining rights, whether the Mizzou assistants can form a single union remains to be determined because of a quirk in Missouri’s Public Sector Labor Law, which sets forth the rules governing collective bargaining for government entities but excludes certain classifications of workers, including teachers, from being covered by those rules.

Because some graduate assistants teach and others are primarily engaged in research, the Western District court questioned whether the Mizzou union can consist of some members who are subject to the Public Sector Labor Law and some who aren’t. It remanded the case to a lower court to sort out that question, which remained pending while the curators appealed. The case is Coalition of Graduate Workers v. The Curators of the University Missouri.


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