Labor News From Our Region
Seven public-sector unions sue to overturn Missouri’s attack on public workers
Lawsuit claims bill signed by disgraced governor Eric Greitens is an unconstitutional overreach meant to weaken workers’ rights to collective bargaining
By TIM ROWDEN
Seven unions representing teachers, patient care professionals, maintenance workers and public safety employees filed a recent lawsuit alleging a so-called “paycheck protection” bill passed by the Missouri Republicans violates the Missouri Constitution by constraining free speech of most public-sector unions and giving preferential treatment to others.
The law, passed this past session as House Bill 1413 (HB 1413), took effect Aug. 28. The new law:
• 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.
IN VIOLATION OF MISSOURI CONSTITUTION
The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis County, seeks an injunction and declaration that the law violates several provisions of the Missouri Constitution, including free speech and due process rights and a specific right for employees “to organize and to bargain collectively.”
Missouri is only one of four states that expressly protects the right of collective bargaining in its state constitution. The lawsuit asserts that HB 1413 violates that right.
Former Gov. Eric Greitens signed HB 1413 into law on June 1, just hours before he resigned in disgrace ahead of impeachment proceedings on multiple allegations of official and personal misconduct.
The law was part of a slew of unpopular, anti-labor measures enacted by the Republican-led Missouri Legislature last session including elimination of the merit system for state employees, restrictions on prevailing wage and a measure moving the so-called “right-to-work” (Prop A) vote to the August ballot – where it was overwhelmingly defeated.
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State employee pay in Missouri is already ranked lowest in the nation. The new law is designed to weaken the ability of public-sector employees to bargain for better wages and working conditions. Among other things, the new law:
• Prohibits bargaining over most working conditions;
• Allows employers to unilaterally change labor agreements;
• Prohibits strikes, picketing or demonstrations of any kind, and makes employees who engage in any such action subject immediate firing.
• Creates 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.
The lawsuit argues the new law violates several rights guaranteed under the Missouri Constitution, including the freedom of speech, association and petition; equal protection; protection against impairment of contracts and the right to organize and bargain collectively.
“This is another attempt by legislators backed by corporate interests to attack our right to speak up about student needs, class-size, wages and benefits,” said Lori Sammelmann, an instructional coach in the Ferguson-Florissant school district.
“Missouri teachers are already some of the lowest paid in the country,” she said. “These lawmakers are out of touch with the actual realities and responsibilities we face as public school teachers and would rather silence us and undermine our ability to negotiate for better learning conditions and better pay, while simultaneously giving corporations and the wealthy more power in our political system.”
VIOLATES EQUAL PROTECTION REQUIREMENTS
In an effort to pit workers against each other, the law selectively discriminates against certain types of public-sector employees but not others. It exempts police, fire fighters, and other public safety employees represented by a law enforcement or public safety union, but not those same employees if they are represented by a trade union.
That exemption, the lawsuit argues, “imposes a raft of harsh restrictions on a disfavored set of public-employee labor organizations and their members,” while exempting others.
And that, the lawsuit argues, violates equal protection requirements in the Missouri Constitution.