Case addresses collective bargaining

Thursday, October 31, 2002

A case that will be heard by the Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday is one that should be watched by all Missourians who care about the future of our state.

Former employees of the Jefferson City School District sued the district, alleging that current state law and the Missouri Constitution mandate that they have the right to collective bargaining. A plaintiff in the case is the daughter-in-law of longtime Missouri labor chieftain Duke McVey. The attorney representing the plaintiffs is St. Louis labor lawyer Ron Gladney. Two courts below ruled against the plaintiffs bringing the suit.

For more than 50 years, this has been considered settled law in Missouri. During that span of years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the right of employees to bargain collectively doesn't pertain to public employees.

The Supreme Court hearing comes the day after next Tuesday's general election when Missourians will decide on Constitutional Amendment No. 2. If approved, the amendment would extend collective bargaining to firefighters, ambulance personnel and dispatchers.

Interestingly, the fact that this amendment is on the ballot is one indication that the state constitution would have to be changed before public employees have the right to collective bargaining. The case before the Supreme Court, however, argues that right already exists, as did Gov. Bob Holden when he signed an executive order soon after taking office that extended collective bargaining to state employees in the executive branch.

While collective bargaining is a vital right for private-sector employees, the public sector -- lacking in the competitive discipline of the private marketplace -- is a different matter entirely.

Consider how far we have come just in the last 18 months. For nearly 35 years -- during all but the last two of which Democrats controlled both houses of the Missouri Legislature -- lawmakers tried annually to pass a bill establishing this right for public employees. For 35 years, these efforts met with defeat. No such bill ever landed on a governor's desk.

Then in June 2001, Holden issued his executive order purporting to establish collective bargaining for some state employees.

That order is the subject of a separate lawsuit, now awaiting a decision in the court of appeals, challenging it as unconstitutional.

Now Missourians watch in amazement as the teachers' lawsuit threatens to short-circuit, in the state's highest court, both the Legislature's failure to enact this law over three and a half decades, to overturn nearly 60 years of legal precedent and to effectively endorse the governor's government-by-fiat on this subject.

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