SUPREME COURT SAYS PUBLIC EMPLOYERS MUST BARGAIN
The Missouri Supreme Court on Nov. 20 ruled that public employers have a constitutional duty to negotiate in good faith with employee unions. In a pair of 5-1 opinions, the court provided some clarity to the obligations of public employers five years after the court ruled that the provision of the Missouri Constitution that guarantees collective bargaining rights applies to public workers.
Article I, Section 29 of the Missouri Constitution says: “That employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.” In the 1947 case City of Springfield v. Clouse, the Supreme Court said that provision only applied to private sector workers. However, 50 years later in Independence NEA v. Independence School District, the court overruled its earlier ruling, holding that in creating an exemption from bargaining rights for public sector workers, the Clouse court read words into the constitution that aren’t there.
Although during the decades between the Clouse and Independence decisions, government workers had no right to collective bargaining, Missouri’s Public Sector Labor Law provided a statutory framework for voluntary collective bargaining between public employers and unions. That law, however, excludes a number of groups, including police officers and teachers. In the five years since the court reversed Clouse, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has taken no action to amend the Public Sector Labor Law to include police and teachers.
Without guidance from the legislature, some local jurisdictions have been unsure as to how they should proceed in negotiations with police and teacher unions. In the latest cases, the public employers involved claimed they had no obligation under the law to negotiate with their respective unions.
Writing for the majority in both cases, Judge Patricia Breckenridge said the constitutional right of workers to bargain collectively would be meaningless if employers didn’t have an affirmative duty to negotiate in good faith. Without a statutory framework for collective bargaining established in state law, the majority said public employers must adopt their own, if necessary, and ruled that a court may not impose such a framework on them. Judge Zel Fischer, the lone dissenter, in both cases said that while the Missouri Constitution provides workers with collective bargaining rights, it places no duty on employers to negotiate.
The cases are American Federation of Teachers v. Richard Ledbetter and Eastern Missouri Coalition of Police v. City of Chesterfield, consolidated with Eastern Missouri Coalition of Police v. City of University City.
STATE MISSES DEADLINE FOR CREATING HEALTH EXCHANGE
Missouri missed a Nov. 16 federal deadline for establishing its own health benefit exchange to allow residents without health insurance to comparison shop for affordable coverage. As a result, the federal government likely will create one for the state.
Under the so-called “individual mandate” provision of the Federal Patient and Affordable Care Act, all Americans will be required to have health insurance as of 2014 or face federal tax penalties. Health benefit exchanges are intended to facilitate the process of obtain coverage for those who don’t receive health insurance through their employer or who don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare.
The Republican-led General Assembly has refused to pass legislation creating such an exchange and instead placed a measure on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot that purported to prohibit the governor from unilaterally establishing one on his own, which the governor already had no power to do. Missouri voters passed the largely symbolic measure, Proposition E, with 61.8 percent support.
Category: Weekly Capitol Update