Republican-backed law targeted public-sector unions
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – The Missouri Supreme Court has struck down a 2018 law that sought to impose new restrictions on collective bargaining for public sector unions while exempting public safety unions from the requirements.
In a 5-2 decision issued June 1, the court held that House Bill 1413 violated public employees’ constitutional right to receive equal protection under the law.
“The Missouri Supreme Court made the right and legal decision today by striking down Paycheck Deception,” stated Missouri AFL-CIO President Jake Hummel. “The court found that the law violated the Missouri Constitution, which guarantees equal protection. It is sad that workers had to take their fight all the way to the Supreme Court due to politicians trying to take away their rights and interfere in their lives.
“Today, the workers of Missouri scored a big win,” Hummel said, “but the Missouri AFL-CIO and our affiliates will continue to fight for all workers of Missouri to ensure that they are protected on the job.”
The law had been on hold since St. Louis County Circuit Judge Joseph Walsh blocked it from being enforced in March 2019 after seven unions representing teachers, patient care professionals, maintenance workers and public safety employees filed suit saying the bill violated the Missouri Constitution by constraining free speech of most public-sector unions and giving preferential treatment to others.
“If the law had gone into effect, the results would have been catastrophic for teachers and janitors and a whole slew of other employees in the public sector who enjoy all of the benefits of unionization and collective bargaining,” said Jason Walta, deputy general counsel for the National Education Association, who argued the case before high court
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the law gave “preferential treatment to some Labor organizations over others” by applying the exemption to unions that “wholly or primarily” represent public safety employees. In practice, that meant a bargaining unit of fire fighters who aligned themselves with the Teamsters union or a bargaining unit of police officers aligned with the Laborers would have been subject to the law’s provisions while fire fighters or police who aligned with traditional public safety unions would have been exempt.
The court ruling found, in part, “the exemption of public safety Labor organizations in section 105.503.2(1)1 creates a scheme that effectively disfavors non-public safety Labor organizations and violates public employees’ right to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.
“There is no rational basis for protecting public safety employees from most — if not all — of the new provisions,” Judge Mary Russell wrote for the majority in a 5-2 decision.
“[T]he only effect (and, therefore, the only evident purpose) of the exemption for public safety Labor organizations is to give preferential treatment to some Labor organizations over others for some reason other than those employees they represent.”
STOP ATTACKS ON MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES
Phil Murray, the president of the Missouri National Education Association, said the ruling affirmed public sector workers’ constitutional right “to participate in their union free of politically motivated interference.
“Missouri educators and public employees are some of the lowest paid in the country,” Murray said. “It is time to stop the politically motivated attacks and get to work on providing the resources students, educators, and Missouri’s public employees need.”
Carmen Hill, a nurse in St. Louis Public Schools, said as a school nurse, her union helps her advocate for the health and safety of students.
“As a school nurse, the health of students is at the center of every decision I make,” Hill said. “Our union helps me advocate for the safety of students and educators. I am relieved the court upheld the right to join a union and advocate for our students without interference from politicians or special interests.”
Monica Jefferson, a teacher in the Special School District of St. Louis County, said the legislation was designed to “silence educators and make it more difficult for us to advocate for our students and colleagues.
“I hope politicians will focus on helping Missouri recover from the pandemic rather than attack middle-class families,” Jefferson said.