Repealing union deal a priority for Blunt

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Business Today

JEFFERSON CITY -- One of Matt Blunt's first official acts following his inauguration as governor will be to undo current Gov. Bob Holden's controversial executive order granting collective bargaining power to most state employees.

"He intends to repeal that executive order on his first day in office," said Spence Jackson, Blunt's spokesman.

Blunt, a Republican, will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 10.

Holden, a Democrat, signed the order on June 29, 2001, at the behest of organized labor groups that supported his successful bid for governor in 2000. The order applied to employees of agencies under the governor's direct control, or about two-thirds of the state work force of more than 60,000 employees.

Several contracts between employee unions and the state have been negotiated under guidelines set forth in the order.

"We think those contracts already in place will still be valid," said Kevin Heyen, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Contracts AFSCME negotiated for state mental health and maintenance workers will expire in 2006.

Although state employees will lose their collective bargaining rights, they will retain the option of belonging to a union.

"There is a misconception that if the executive order is rescinded, unions are going to disappear," Heyen said. "That is not the case. Unions existed here before collective bargaining."

Holden's order gave employee unions additional clout in contract negotiations, including the right to binding arbitration. Before the order, unions had only the power to "meet and confer" with management.

The order also allowed the charging of service fees to workers who don't belong to a union but are still represented by one.

Such fees haven't been collected because Blunt, in his current post as secretary of state, has refused to publish the administrative regulation needed to allow the fees to be deducted from the paychecks of affected workers.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown III recently ruled the secretary of state's duty to publish regulations is ministerial and that Blunt has no discretion to block them from taking effect. An appeal of Brown's decision is planned.

No matter the outcome of that case, Blunt can direct the Office of Administration to repeal the regulation once he becomes governor.

Jackson said Blunt doesn't anticipate any backlash from state workers for rescinding Holden's order.

"Judging by the comments we received from state employees during the course of the campaign, it will be met will more favor than one might think," Jackson said.

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