Labor attorney Gladney talks of collective bargaining letter

Friday, December 7, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Prominent St. Louis labor attorney Ronald C. Gladney says he doesn't understand the fuss over a letter he penned a year ago outlining in detail the contents of Gov. Bob Holden's executive order on collective bargaining -- an order Holden didn't sign until June.

The discovery of the letter by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, in August prompted Senate Republicans to launch an investigation into organized labor's role in the order's drafting and its implications for the state.

At that time, Gladney never publicly commented on the letter or the furor it created. He discussed it for the first time Thursday in response to reporters' questions after speaking to more than 100 unionized state workers gathered in the Capitol to push for lower health insurance premiums.

Gladney says that he frequently corresponds with public officials on a personal basis and that there was nothing improper with him doing so in this instance.

"I never talked to the governor about it before the day the order was signed," Gladney said.

Gladney wrote the letter, dated Dec. 18, on behalf of the Missouri AFL-CIO. It was addressed to Julie Gibson, who three weeks later with Holden's inauguration would become the governor's chief of staff. Gibson left that post in October to work for the state Democratic Party.

The letter indicates that Holden had promised to sign an executive order extending collective bargaining rights to many state employees shortly after taking office in January. However, Gladney says in the letter that his clients wouldn't protest if Holden delayed the order until June, after the General Assembly had adjourned for the year. Over the last 30 years, lawmakers have repeatedly rejected legislation to grant bargaining power to state workers.

Letter made public

Holden's plans remained shrouded in secrecy until he signed the order on June 29 during a private ceremony attended only by administration and organized labor officials.

Kinder made public the Gladney letter, which he discovered among hundreds of documents he requested from Holden's office, on Aug. 13.

Until then, Holden had been tight-lipped about organized labor's involvement with the order. He later downplayed the significance of the letter.

Gladney, who is married to Republican U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau, says Holden has always supported organized labor and collective bargaining for state employees. The real news, Gladney says, is that Missourians elected a politician who kept a campaign promise.

"He was very open about that promise; it wasn't privately made," Gladney said. "He promised to protect public employees throughout the state. He did it in Cape Girardeau during a debate. It was no secret."

Private letter

Kinder wonders why if Gladney considers the letter insignificant, it was sent to Gibson's home address, making it a personal correspondence not covered by state open records laws.

Kinder says it was only blind luck that the letter was included in his request for records and therefore became public.

"People who act furtively are judged accordingly," Kinder said. "Nice try, Ron, but the revelation that the whole policy was dictated by counsel to a labor union remains an embarrassment to the administration, as well it should."

The GOP-led Senate committee that examined Holden's order found few answers to questions concerning organized labor's role. Key potential witnesses, including Gibson, refused to testify before the panel. At one point, the committee considered seeking subpoena power from Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, a Democrat, in order to compel testimony but never did so.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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