Judge dismisses collective bargaining suit against Holden

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Business Today

JEFFERSON CITY -- A judge on Dec. 18 dismissed state Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder's lawsuit challenging Gov. Bob Holden's executive order that granted collective bargaining rights to state workers.

Cole County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Brown III ruled that Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, and fellow plaintiffs lacked legal standing to bring the lawsuit and that their claims were speculative and therefore not ripe for judicial review.

Brown's six-paragraph ruling also stated that as a policy directive, "the executive order is within the governor's discretion and authority and is therefore not actionable." "This finding is perfectly in accord with what I believed when I signed the executive order being challenged and is a resounding victory for the separation of powers granted by our state constitution," Holden said.

Among the lawsuit's claims was that Holden overstepped his constitutional authority by usurping legislative powers. In the past 30 years, the General Assembly has repeatedly rejected collective bargaining for state workers.

Brown dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that Kinder is barred from refiling the lawsuit unless a higher court overrules Brown.

Though disappointed, Kinder called the decision "the first skirmish in a long battle" and said he will appeal.

"This is a delay, not a defeat, and our efforts to protect workers, citizens and taxpayers will continue until all are assured that only they control the salaries they have earned," Kinder said.

In bringing the lawsuit, Kinder led a coalition that included pro-business organizations, other special-interest groups and state employees opposed to collective bargaining. Liberal Democratic state Rep. Quincy Troupe of St.

Louis also signed on to the litigation. However, unlike the other plaintiffs, Troupe argued Holden's action didn't go far enough because it gives bargaining rights only to employees of departments under the governor's direct control instead of all state workers.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 24, 2001. One month later, the state attorney general's office, representing the governor, filed a motion to dismiss the case.

In addition to challenging Holden's order as unconstitutional, the plaintiffs claim the order allows for forcible collection of union dues from workers who decline union membership and other dire consequences. Because none of that has yet come to pass, Brown said in his ruling that now is not the time for judicial review.

"Plaintiffs' claims contemplate events and consequences that have not happened and may never happen," Brown said. "Because of the speculative nature of these claims, therefore, the court finds that they are not ripe." The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is among the plaintiffs. Chamber president and chief executive officer Dan Mehan criticized Brown's ruling.

"This case could have precedent-setting ramification upon the distribution-and-separation-of-powers doctrine and the role of the Legislature and executive branch in determining public policy in the state of Missouri, yet taxpayers never had their day in court," Mehan said. "Every state worker and taxpayer has a right to a thorough judicial review of this order and answers to questions the suit raises."

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