AFSCME Council 61, SEIU Local 1, CWA Local 6355 file suit against unconstitutional attack on workers’ rights
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City — A coalition of labor unions recently filed suit challenging a Missouri law championed by Republican lawmakers and former Gov. Eric Greitens that strips state workers of their collective bargaining rights and makes it easier to fire them.
The lawsuit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court Oct. 10 by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, and Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6355, says the changes infringe on state workers’ collective bargaining rights, which are enshrined in the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
“Former Governor Greitens may have thought he could throw away the hard-won rights of dedicated public service workers on his way out the door,” said AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan. “But the Missouri Constitution says otherwise. We are fighting this unjust and illegal attack on the rights of our members every step of the way, and we are confident that justice will prevail.”
The law, which took effect Aug. 28, essentially turns state social service jobs into patronage positions by eliminating the state’s merit system, which requires employees to be hired based on their performance on standardized tests, rather than their allegiance to a particular politician or political party.
DEAL WITH GREITENS
That change and others were part of a deal scandal-plagued Greitens laid out in his budget proposal in February, in which he said he’d sign off on small raises for state workers – who remain the lowest paid in the nation – in exchange for legislation that would make it easier for the governor’s administration to hire, fire and reward government workers.
Greitens signed the bill on his final day in office prior to turning the reins over to Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, who also supports the changes.
SEIU Local 1 Vice President Nancy Cross said the new law will hurt thousands of Missouri working families as well as those who rely on state services.
Some 25,000 state workers — nearly half of the state workforce — are affected by the new law. “SEIU Local 1 members are coming together to reverse this unconstitutional attack by wealthy special interests on the rights of the working people of our state,” Cross said.
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 would switch from one party to another. Nothing in the merit system prohibited workers from being fired for cause or poor performance.
In addition to eliminating the merit system, the new law goes even further by gutting established processes that protected merit employees from frivolous complaints.
FIRED FOR ‘NO REASON OR ANY REASON’
The law, according to the unions’ suit, “made drastic changes to essential terms and conditions of employment for state employees by purportedly designating them as ‘at will’ employees, thereby subjecting them to termination for ‘no reason or any reason.’”
What’s more, the unions say the changes to employees’ work rules and conditions ignored contractual rights that had already been agreed to — in contracts that still are in effect and in contracts that expired this year.
Communications Workers of America Local 6355 President Natashia Pickens said the changes are an attack on workers’ right to organize and ability to collectively bargain.
“Unions of public workers have the infrastructure to protect workers from unjust actions in the workplace and fight for the crucial services that members of our communities need to survive,” Pickens said.
“We fight for the workers, and the state is trying to alienate workers and crush the very organizations with the ability to help workers have a voice on the job. CWA 6355 members are not just going to stand by and let them diminish the rights of workers and the families we serve.”