Bargaining case deserves more attention

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

A case with momentous implications for all Missourians is in the Missouri Supreme Court, scheduled for hearing Nov. 6. The case could eventually lead to collective bargaining rights for school employees.

The case was brought by a former teacher and a former principal in the Jefferson City School District and their union representative.

The three claim the district denied the two employees the ability to file grievances against the district in violation of the Missouri and U.S. Constitution. In other words, their claim is that current law mandates that school employees have the rights that, during 35 years of experience in our state, all parties -- both proponents and opponents, as well as neutral observers -- have always assumed that they don't possess.

We say this because for those decades, advocates of collective-bargaining rights for public employees have striven mightily to pass collective-bargaining bills through the General Assembly. None has ever passed in all these years, during all but the last two of which Democrats controlled both the House and Senate.

Prominent labor union attorney Ronald C. Gladney of St. Louis is the lead counsel for the plaintiff school employees. Gladney is the author of the infamous memo, drafted on behalf of his client, the Missouri AFL-CIO, to the former chief of staff to Gov. Bob Holden, written even before Holden was sworn in as governor. In that memo, Gladney laid out to Holden the details of his executive order, subsequently issued by Holden six months into his term, which purported to establish collective bargaining for many state employees. That case is the subject of a separate court challenge, filed by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau and many other parties, which is now on appeal.

Lower courts have made short shrift of the lawsuit Gladney now presses in our highest court. First the Cole County Circuit Court dismissed the case against the school district. In May of this year the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District upheld that dismissal.

Were the Supreme Court to uphold that dismissal, the case would be sent back to the Cole County Circuit Court for a trial on the merits of the plaintiffs' claims. A further wrinkle is that four judges -- Carnahan appointee Ronnie White, plus Ashcroft appointees Duane Benton, Ray Price and Stephen Limbaugh -- have recused themselves for various conflicts in this case. Carnahan appointee Michael White will appoint their four replacements from among the state's judiciary.

The stakes are high indeed, and justify that this case receives far more coverage than the minimal attention, both from the news media and citizenry, than it has received to date.

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