GOP fears order allows for strike

Thursday, November 1, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Senate Republicans continued their probe of Gov. Bob Holden's executive order on collective bargaining on Wednesday, raising questions about state policies relating to illegal strikes by state workers.

For the third time, Mike Hartmann, Holden's commissioner of administration, appeared before the all-GOP Senate Interim Committee on Public Employee Collective Bargaining.

Hartmann, the only high-ranking Holden administration official who has been willing to testify before the panel, faced about two hours of tough questioning from the senators, who frequently shouted angrily about issues arising from the Democratic governor's June action.

State Sen. Larry Rohrbach, R-California, raised the issue of how the administration would handle a strike by unionized state workers. The executive order extends collective bargaining rights to many state employees, but specifically prohibits strikes.

"I think we would deal with that as we would with any other personnel issue when an employee does not follow the law or procedure," Hartmann said.

But Rohrbach was disturbed that the order doesn't specifically address the situation.

"This doesn't say there's going to be any penalties," Rohrbach said. "It just says they don't have a right" to strike.

Hartmann said crafting official policies on how to handle a strike is "an excellent suggestion."

State Sen. John T. Russell, R-Lebanon and committee chairman, suggested that such a policy would serve as a deterrent to an illegal strike, particularly if it dictated that striking workers would lose their jobs.

Russell also asked about the provision of the order allowing an impasse to be declared if an agreement between the state and a bargaining unit isn't reached after 60 days of negotiation.

In that case, Hartmann said, an outside mediator would be brought in to evaluate the situation and make recommendations. However, the mediator's findings wouldn't be binding on the state.

Russell said the provision would encourage a union to stall, declare an impasse and then use the mediator's recommendations, binding or not, as ammunition.

"The union is going to beat you over the head with that," Russell said. "They are going to make you eat those words."

Order covers 30,000

A key area of annoyance for committee members concerned the specific number of state employees and departments covered by Holden's order. About 30,000 state workers are assumed to be affected by the order, but Hartmann admitted the exact number is unclear.

The order applies only to executive branch departments directly under the governor's control. Departments, such as transportation and conservation, are independent under the Missouri Constitution and are clearly not affected, Hartmann said.

The status of some other departments, however, is a little murky.

Hartmann cited the Department of Mental Health as an example. That department is run by a commission appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, as with transportation and conservation. However, the constitution doesn't grant it the same level of independence.

Hartmann said convincing arguments could be made both that mental health is and isn't under the governor's control.

Lacks clarity

"The way the statute is written, it lacks clarity," Hartmann said.

Rohrbach said this situation reveals one of the order's many failings.

"It is interesting the order covers employees under his direct control, but you don't know who they are," Rohrbach said. "It is an interesting way to run a railroad."

As with many laws passed by the General Assembly later found to have flaws, Hartmann said, the executive order may need revisions. Rohrbach suggested the governor scrap the order and start over.

"I think as we work to answer some of these questions, the executive order could be modified," Hartmann said. "But I don't think it is necessary to start over. ... I think there is a tremendous amount of misinformation on what the executive order does and doesn't do, on both sides."

Russell didn't think so, repeating his claim that Holden signed the order as a political payoff for union support in last year's election.

"I never saw an administration so in bed with unions," Russell said.

Only three of the committee's seven appointed members attended the hearing. One Republican and all three Democratic members were absent. The Democrats so far have boycotted the committee, branding it a GOP "witch hunt."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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