By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City, MO — Two lawsuits challenging two anti-union bills passed last year by the Republican-led Missouri legislature and signed by former governor Eric Greitens specifically targeting public sector union members are set to go to trial later this year.
The new laws, part of a slew of anti-union legislation passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly during the 2018 regular session, have been on hold since March when a St. Louis County judge granted a preliminary injunction halting HB 1413 from taking effect and a Cole County judge preliminarily enjoined the state from implementing SB 1007.
SCRAPPING MERIT SYSTEM IN FAVOR OF POLITICAL PATRONAGE
On Dec. 9, Cole County Judge Jon Beetem will hold a bench trial on a legal challenge to Senate Bill 1007, a law that stripped state employees of their civil service protections, turning state social service workers into at-will employees who can be “discharged for no reason or any reason not prohibited by law.”
The law eliminates the State Merit System, which for more than seven decades required workers to be hired or promoted based on skill and protected them for being fired arbitrarily.
The General Assembly established the merit system in 1946 to prevent political patronage when hiring for non-political state jobs and to bring professionalism to personnel decisions. Prior to the adoption of the merit system, nearly all state workers – including janitors, secretaries, cooks, nurses, corrections officers and state troopers and others – risked losing their jobs whenever control of the governor’s office switched from one party to another.
Nothing in the merit system prohibited workers from being fired for cause or poor performance.
Three unions representing state employees – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Communications Workers of America Local 6355, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 – filed suit in October 2018 saying SB 1007 violates provisions of the Missouri Constitution.
Beetem issued an order in March barring the state from interpreting and applying SB 1007 in a manner that “infringes on or is inconsistent with the right to collectively bargain.”
PAYCHECK DECEPTION AND WORSE
In January, lawyers will argue the constitutionality of House Bill 1413, a 2018 measure dubbed as “paycheck protection” by the Republican-held Missouri General Assembly and “paycheck deception” by union members who know what it really means.
Seven unions representing teachers, patient care professionals, maintenance workers and public safety employees filed suit saying the bill violates the Missouri Constitution by constraining free speech of most public-sector unions and giving preferential treatment to others.
The bill, which had initially taken effect in August 2018 but is now on hold:
- Requires recertification votes for most public-sector unions to continue their representation.
- Limits the topics on which they can bargain.
- Requires annual employee permission to deduct dues or other fees from paychecks or to spend money on political causes.
The law would also:
- Prohibit bargaining over most working conditions.
- Allow employers to unilaterally change labor agreements.
- Prohibit strikes, picketing or demonstrations of any kind, and makes employees who engage in any such action subject to immediate firing.
- Create new unnecessary and burdensome bureaucratic hoops for unions to represent their members by requiring government employees – other than fire fighters, police and other first-responders – to “opt-in” annually to have their union dues withdrawn from their paychecks.
St. Louis County Judge Joseph Walsh III halted the continued enforcement of the law in March, saying the law would gut the state’s constitutionally guaranteed collective bargaining rules.
“A system like HB 1413 — in which very few conditions of employment are subject to meaningful bargaining, and the few conditions over which the parties can negotiate may be unilaterally abrogated by management — does not even give an illusion of collective bargaining,” he wrote.
The case is scheduled to go to trial on January 6, 2020, at 9 a.m. in St. Louis County.