Panel rejects rule on union fee collection

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Republican-led legislative panel on Monday voted along party lines to disapprove a proposed administrative rule that would pave the way for collection of "fair-share" fees from state workers who are represented by -- but do not belong to -- a union.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which reviews regulations proposed by state agencies, voted 6-4 against the rule proposed by the Office of Administration. However, the future of the regulation remains to be decided.

State Sen. Michael Gibbons of Kirkwood and other Republicans said OA failed to state a legitimate legal basis for the rule.

"Ultimately our obligation is to look at whether there is statutory authorization for the promulgation of this rule, and it just isn't there," Gibbons said.

Several panel members pointed to a state law that bars involuntary deductions from employee paychecks for a variety of reasons, including union dues.

Democrats countered the law wasn't an issue for the committee because the proposed rule would merely modify an existing regulation by defining collective bargaining dues.

Fair-share fees were authorized by an executive order that Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, signed in 2001. That order extended collective bargaining rights to many state workers. However, the issue remained dormant until this summer, when the first labor agreements negotiated under the order were approved.

The agreements cover health-care workers with the Department of Mental Health, Department of Corrections and the Missouri Veterans Commission. Those employees are represented by either the Service Employees International Union or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers.

Although not specifically stated in the language, the rule in practice would make permission to deduct fees a condition of employment. It applies only to workers hired after Sept. 1.

State Rep. Richard Byrd, who chairs the administrative rules committee, said in the 19 previous instances this year when the panel rejected a rule, the proposing agency withdrew it. However, Office of Administration commissioner Jacquelyn White said she viewed the present rule as "ministerial" and that her agency would consider its legal options.

Should OA refuse to back down, the legislature would have 30 legislative working days from the time it convenes on Jan. 7 to pass a resolution invalidating the rule.

Whatever action the legislature takes, Secretary of State Matt Blunt, a Republican, said in a letter to White dated Sept. 9 that he would refuse to publish the rule as currently written in the Missouri Register, which lists state regulations. A spokesman said Monday that Blunt's position hasn't changed.

If Blunt blocks the rule, union officials have indicated they would seek a court order compelling him to do so.

mpowers@semissourian

(573) 635-4608

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