Missouri’s Bargaining Cutbacks Illegally Discriminate

Written on 08/07/2021
Will Aitchison

Prior to the Missouri General Assembly’s enactment of HB 1413 in 2018, the State’s public labor law created a loose collective bargaining framework for public employees. Including definitions, the entire law spanned five brief sections. One section granted public employees the right to collectively bargain, another authorized bargaining agreements, and a third granted the state Board of Mediation limited authority to resolve some disputes.

HB 1413 significantly altered many aspects of public labor relations in Missouri by repealing the existing statutes and enacting 21 new sections. Among its new provisions, HB 1413 required unions to adopt a constitution and bylaws, provide detailed reporting with annual filings, mandated that officers and employees of unions file certain disclosures, and required public employees to annually authorize withholding labor organization dues and fees from their earnings. A series of other changes continued a cutback on the rights unions had enjoyed prior to HB 1413.

However, the cutbacks did not apply to “public safety labor organizations and all employees of a public body who are members of a public safety labor organization” or to the department of corrections and its employees.

The day before HB 1413 was to go into effect, seven labor unions sued the state agencies authorized to implement and enforce HB 1413, the employers of the bargaining units represented by the labor unions, and the prosecutor who would enforce HB 1413’s criminal provisions. The unions argued that HB 1413 violated provisions of the state constitution, namely the right to collective bargaining in Article I, Section 29; the equal protection provision of Article I, Section 2; and the right to freedom of speech and association in Article I, Sections 8 and 9.

The Missouri Supreme Court agreed with the unions and declared that the entirety of HB 1413 was unconstitutional. The problem, the Court found, was that the exemption of public safety labor organizations from HB 1413 violated the Missouri Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

As the Court analyzed it, “Leaving aside that the exemption for public safety labor organizations supplies preferential status for certain labor organizations over others and not certain employees over others, there is no rational basis for protecting public safety employees from most – if not all – of the new provisions in HB 1413. In fact, the opposite is true. For example, Section 105.585(2) requires that every labor agreement expressly prohibit covered employees from going on strike. While a rational basis would exist in some circumstances for including public safety employees given the importance of the work they do and the need to protect against interruptions in their service, HB 1413 and its exemption for public safety labor organizations protects those labor organizations – and only those labor organizations – from this requirement.

“There may well be situations in which this type of separate treatment can be rational, but that question does not apply here because HB 1413 differentiates groups of employees based on their affiliation with other employees, regardless of job functions of those employees. Pursuant to Section 105.500(8), a labor organization is classified as a ‘public safety labor organization’ if the labor organization primarily represents those with public safety positions. The composition of public safety labor organizations and non-public safety labor organizations may be, by definition, quite similar. The distinction merely turns on whether those with public safety positions constitute a simple majority of the organization’s membership. A labor organization composed of 51 percent public safety employees is similarly situated to a labor organization composed of 49 percent public safety employees. HB 1413, however, would treat the two drastically different.

“These defects make it unnecessary to address the Labor Unions’ other arguments for, in themselves, they demonstrate each of the State’s asserted rational bases is neither rational nor an apparent basis for the provision. Instead, the 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. Accordingly, this exemption violates equal protection and is invalid on that ground.

“The State’s argument in favor of severance of the exemption is illogical in that the result would make public labor law reform applicable to public safety labor organizations, which the legislature specifically excluded. The exemption is not concerned with a singular provision or aspect of the bill; rather, it provides an exemption from the overall statutory scheme itself, which consists of approximately 20 sections. Even without giving weight to the late addition of the exemption in the legislative process, this Court refuses to sever the exemption and make this public labor reform law applicable to public safety labor organizations when the legislature contemplated this application and intentionally crafted Section 105.503.2(1) to avoid such an outcome.

“This Court cannot say the legislature would have enacted the valid provisions of HB 1413 without this void one. If the legislature desired to pass a scheme imposing reform provisions to all public labor organizations, it had the opportunity to do so. But it did not; it specifically provided the reform provisions would not apply to public safety labor organizations. This Court will not, by severance, leave in place legislation contrary to the legislature’s intent. By its plain language, Section 105.503.2(1) is essentially and inseparably connected with all other provisions of HB 1413; therefore, HB 1413 must be declared void in its entirety.”

Missouri National Education Association v. Missouri Dept. of Labor and Industrial Relations, 2021 WL 2211998 (Mo. 2021).

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