Greiten’s era ‘at-will’ law sent back to circuit court
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City — The murky shadow of disgraced former Governor Eric Greitens continues to darken the halls here, where the Missouri Supreme Court on Oct. 4 reversed a lower court ruling that had been seen as a victory for state workers represented by Labor unions.
At issue is a 2018 law approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature that public sector Labor unions representing prison guards, child welfare workers and other state employees said has “eviscerated” the collective bargaining process, Kurt Erickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
The case affects an estimated 13,465 state employees covered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Local 6355 of the Communications Workers of America; and Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union.
After the law went into effect, most state workers lost protections that included certain grievance procedures and guidelines for firing workers and became at-will employees who could be fired at any time.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem put the law on hold in 2019, saying the new law impairs the bargaining rights of state workers, which are guaranteed in the state constitution.
However, in a 31-page ruling written by Supreme Court Judge W. Brent Powell – a Kansas City resident named to the high court by Greitens in 2017 – the high court said the 2019 decision by Beetem was “erroneous” and sent the matter back to the circuit court for further deliberation.
The high court found the law, while limiting the collective bargaining process, doesn’t eliminate it entirely.
The court finds the law “does not violate the right to bargain collectively as guaranteed by … the Missouri Constitution because the state is still able to bargain with unions in good faith for various terms and conditions of employment consistent with at-will employment,” Powell wrote.
There are currently more than 5,000 open positions within the state’s 50,000-plus workforce.
Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, has worked to boost the pay for state workers, but his administration has not negotiated new contracts with the unions since he took over when Greitens resigned amid multiple investigations into an affair he had with his hairdresser and campaign finance questions.
The law was among two significant anti-union bills pushed by Greitens in 2018 to limit the rights of public employees.
The other law – a paycheck deception measure – required state employee unions to receive annual approval to withhold dues from paychecks and was deemed unconstitutional by the high court in 2021.