Union employees sue Blunt over collective bargaining

Friday, August 20, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Several unionized state employees want a judge to compel Secretary of State Matt Blunt to cease blocking a proposed administrative rule that would allow unions to impose fees on non-members the unions are obligated to represent.

The 18 state workers who filed the lawsuit Monday in Cole County Circuit Court are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents employees of several state agencies. Judge Thomas Brown III has given Blunt until Sept. 15 to respond.

At issue is a rule proposed by the Missouri Office of Administration that essentially would require those seeking a state job covered by a collective-bargaining agreement to agree to pay union fees as a condition of employment. The rule is intended to bypass a Missouri law that prohibits involuntary deductions from the paychecks of state employees for union dues and certain other purposes.

The employees claim Blunt has exceeded his authority by refusing to publish the rule in the Code of State Regulations. They maintain Blunt's duty in this regard is merely ministerial and non-discretionary.

"Simply put, [Blunt] refuses to publish the rule based upon his own interpretation of pertinent statutes and his own assessment of the validity of the rule," the lawsuit says.

The power to declare a rule invalid is solely vested in the judicial branch, according to the lawsuit, and cannot be exercised by the secretary of state.

Shortly after the Office of Administration proposed the rule a year ago, Blunt sent the agency a letter stating that he wouldn't publish it because the Office of Administration was unable to cite a relevant legal basis for the regulation.

Blunt's stance

In a statement issued Thursday, Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said the law protects state employees from being forced to financially support private organizations.

"This is merely the latest in a string of unsuccessful attempts to put a lug on state employees' paychecks," Jackson said.

In June 2001, Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, signed a controversial executive order extending collective bargaining rights to many state workers. That order also authorized unions to seek the so-called "fair-share fees" at issue in the lawsuit.

The matter remained dormant until last summer when AFSCME and another union negotiated contracts that included the right to collect the fees.

The Republican-led Missouri Legislature passed a resolution rejecting the proposed rule in February, but Holden quickly vetoed it. The legislature made no attempt to override the veto, but Blunt still refused to publish the rule, thus preventing it from taking effect.

Blunt, a Republican, is running for governor against State Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, was the lead plaintiff in an earlier lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to invalidate Holden's executive order as unconstitutional. Kinder said Blunt has taken the correct position in serving as the last line of defense against the involuntary imposition of fees.

"I believe this will be tossed out of court," Kinder said. "But it is evidence of how persistent the state employees' unions are in trying to loot the public treasury and line their own pockets."

The case is State ex rel Tammy Bowles, et al., v. Matt Blunt.


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