JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State probation and parole officers have embraced union representation while workers in the divisions of employment security and workforce development have not.
Voting under expanded union powers backed by the governor, workers of the Division of Probation and Parole voted 531-199 in favor of being represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 2000, the state Board of Mediation said Tuesday.
A total of 730 of an eligible 1,260 workers took part in the vote, which began Nov. 14 and ended Nov. 30.
Meanwhile, workers in the Division of Workforce Development and the Division of Employment Security voted 300 to 192 against allowing SEIU to represent them. Of the 727 eligible voters, 492 took part.
Grant Williams, president of SEIU's local in St. Louis, said the union was pleased that probation and parole officers -- the group with the largest number of voters -- voted in favor of union representation.
"We're very excited for probation and parole. All we've asked all along is let the employees decide," Williams said. "Obviously, we're disappointed by the other loss, but we think they'll come around in a year or so"
Williams said he hopes to hold negotiations with state officials regarding probation and parole officers as early as this month to discuss things such as salaries and grievance procedures.
"This was a huge victory, not just for us but for the public as well," said Daniel Spring, a probation and parole officer. "With proper input and resources, we'll be able to make sure that our children and communities remain safe. I can't think of anything more important."
The vote was the first cast since Gov. Bob Holden expanded collective bargaining powers under an executive order signed in June. The order is being challenged in court and a legislative panel is examining the process by which it was created.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which is one of the groups challenging the order, criticized the union's role in the election.
"Today's certification of probation and parole workers represents the first of many opportunities for union bosses to get their hands on Missouri state workers' paychecks," said Kelly Gillespie, vice president of governmental affairs for the chamber.
Unions have long had the ability to represent state workers but previously had no power to enter into binding negotiations with administrators.
Employees in the three agencies previously were represented by Service Employees International Union Local 50. But that local dropped its representation after Holden's order so that the union could reorganize.
The union had been promoting a health-care plan for its members, which is designed to offset large premium increases through the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan.
Holden's executive order has been criticized by business groups and Republicans, who for years have blocked legislative efforts to grant collective bargaining power to public employees.
A lawsuit has been filed by a pair of lawmakers and business groups challenging the constitutionality of the order. Holden has sought to have the case dismissed. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is being held Thursday in Cole County Circuit Court.
Holden's June 29 order grants collective bargaining rights to nearly 30,000 of the state's 65,000 employees and allows many state boards and commissions to grant similar rights to other employees.
The order authorizes binding arbitration to settle some disputes and could allow negotiating fees to be charged even to employees who do not join unions.
State employees still cannot strike, and the Legislature retains the final say on any decisions requiring appropriations or changes to the law.