Operating Engineers Local 148 sues Franklin County Commission for refusing to bargain

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By TIM ROWDEN
Editor

FRANKLIN COUNTY Highway Department employees represented by Operating Engineers Local 148 are fighting to get County Commissioners to the bargaining table. Local 148 filed suit last week in Franklin County Circuit Court seeking a judge’s ruling ordering the County Commission to bargain in good faith. – Operating Engineers Local 148 photo

Union, MO – Operating Engineers Local 148 has filed suit against the Franklin County Commission over the board’s refusal to bargain in good faith a contract with union employees in the County Highway Department.

Local 148 represents 51 members in the Highway Department. Although originally certified by Operating Engineers Local 2, – which later merged with Local 148 – their current contract, which expires on Dec. 31 of this year and all contracts negotiated since 2006, were negotiated by Local 148. But the County Commission is refusing to recognize Local 148 as the certified representative of the Highway Department workers and demanding an election –conducted by the County Commission – to certify Local 148 as the employees’ representative.

The County is relying on a Collective Bargaining Policy (Commission Order 2019-337), which the County Commission issued on Aug. 13, 2019 to justify its demand for an election, despite Local 148 having been certified by the Missouri State Board of Mediation (MSBM) as the employees’ exclusive bargaining representative. The Commission Order also restricts topics which can be bargained.

Local 148 Business Representative Doug Williams said the union was forced to file suit by the County’s refusal to come to the bargaining table.

“We want to get a ruling from a judge compelling them to recognize us as the bargaining agent,” Williams said. “We’re also seeking legal fees, because we don’t believe we ever should have had this fight.”

IGNORING BARGAINING HISTORY
Not only is the County Commission demanding a recertification election and restricting bargaining topics outside the letter of the law, county commissioners are ignoring the County’s own actions over the past 13 years. Here’s the timeline:

  • July 11, 1996 – A certification election was conducted by MSBM which certified Operating Engineers Local 2 as the exclusive bargaining representative of certain employees of the Franklin County Highway Department.
  • October 2006 – Local 2 was merged into Local 148. Subsequent to the merger, Local 148 continued to represent employees of the Highway Department, just as Local 2 had done prior to the merger, and was recognized by Franklin County as the exclusive bargaining representative of employees of its Highway Department.
  • Since 2006 – Local 148 and Franklin County have negotiated and been party to collective bargaining agreements since 2006, but the County Commission is choosing to ignore that. The current agreement is effective from Jan. 1, 2017 through Dec. 31, 2019 and states in part:

“The County Commission recognizes the INTERNATIONAL UNION OF OPERATING ENGINEERS, LOCAL 148 as the sole and exclusive bargaining representative of eligible employees of the FRANKLIN COUNTY, MISSOURI, HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT.”

That’s about as clear as you can get. Still, to satisfy the County Commission, Local 148 filed an Amendment of Certification with the MSBM to reflect the merger between Local 2 and Local 148. The Amended Certification was approved on Sept. 11, 2019, with the MSBM stating: “As demonstrated by the collective bargaining agreement the employer recognizes Local 148 as the exclusive bargaining agent.”

But the County still won’t bargain.

TRYING TO ENFORCE A CHALLENGED LAW
Instead, acting on advice from Sandberg Phoenix law firm, the County is claiming Missouri House Bill 1413 (HB 1413) requires a recertification election, and further, that the election should be conducted by the County. That argument is simply wrong.

To begin with, HB 1413, a “paycheck deception” measure was passed last year by the Republican-led Missouri Legislature and signed by former governor Eric Greitens, targeting public sector unions, initially took effect in August 2018 but was placed on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by several unions, including Local 148, challenging the constitutionality of the measure.

St. Louis County Judge Joseph Walsh III issued a temporary injunction on March 8, 2019 enjoining all defendants, including the MSBM and the Missouri Department of Labor “from administering or enforcing” any provision of HB 1413.

In his ruling, Walsh said 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,” Walsh ruled. Allowing the paycheck deception statute to continue being enforced, he continued, “threatens to void… representational status, jeopardizes long-standing contractual protections” and “destroys good faith bargaining.”

The case is set to go to trial later this year.

In the meantime, HB 1413 IS NOT IN EFFECT and cannot be used to require a new certification election, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Despite these facts, the County is apparently taking the position that because HB 1413 has not been permanently enjoined, that it is in fact law –– despite Judge Walsh’s ruling.

Even if HB 1413 were in effect, the County’s demand for a certification election overseen by the County Commission would conflict with it, because HB 1413 only allows a certification election to be conducted by the MSBM.

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