Brian C. Hey

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One Year Later Local Governments Are Still Confused About the Current Status of Missouri’s Public Sector Labor Laws

On May 17, 2018, the Missouri General Assembly adopted House Bill 1413 (HB 1413), which contained a comprehensive rewrite of Missouri public sector labor law.  After HB 1413 became effective on August 28, 2018, a lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of St. Louis challenging the constitutionality of the HB 1413 – Missouri National Education Association, et al. v. Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, et al, Case No. 18SL-CC03310 (hereinafter referred to as “MNEA”).  The case was brought by several different labor unions against the Missouri Department of Labor and the State Board of Mediation.

On March 8, 2019, Honorable Joseph Walsh, III, Circuit Judge for Division 17 in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, granted a preliminary injunction in MNEA.  The Court ruled that HB 1413 violates the Missouri Constitution because it placed limitations on the ability of public employees in Missouri to collectively bargain.  While this is a preliminary step, it calls into question whether local ordinances that share commonalities with HB 1413 are valid and constitutional.

One common provision found in most local ordinances is the ban of all picketing.  In MNEA, the court found a restriction on all picketing to be a violation of the Missouri Constitution’s protection of speech and association with regard to political and employment matters.  The Court noted that not all picketing is “disruptive” as much picketing is performed to inform and educate the public on a matter instead of disruption.  Accordingly, the Court concluded a ban on all picketing would improperly restrict non-disruptive picketing.  Therefore, under the MNEA analysis, similar language contained in a local government’s ordinance could be found invalid and/or unconstitutional.

However, there is hope that some of the provisions contained in HB 1413 can still be utilized by local governments.  Although MNEA is the most recent case addressing public sector bargaining, a prior case, W. Cent. Missouri Region Lodge #50 of Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Grandview, 460 S.W.3d 425, 428 (Mo. Ct. App. 2015), also considered similar subject matter.  In that case, the Western District Court of Appeals considered a municipal ordinance that contained some provisions similar to HB 1413 and concluded the ordinance was valid and legal.  In finding that local governments have the right to set a framework for employees not covered by the Public Sector Law, the Court found the following provisions acceptable:

  • Prohibition on employees and supervisors being contained within the same bargaining unit;
  • Prohibition on employees and supervisors being represented by the same union;
  • Prohibition on pay for union representatives while engaged in bargaining; and
  • Limitation on the duration of a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Accordingly, precedent exists that some of the basic tenets of HB 1413 are valid and legal.

While HB 1413 is still the law, the practical effect of the MNEA Court’s recent order is that neither the Department of Labor nor the State Board of Mediation will take any actions to implement or enforce the law at this time.  Also, the terms of the Court’s preliminary injunction order are limited strictly to Missouri Department of Labor and the State Board of Mediation, and thus are inapplicable to local governments.  However, local governments should be cognizant that their current ordinances may contain language that could be later declared unconstitutional.   If a local government has adopted language that the MNEA court has found to be unconstitutional, that local government may want to consider abandoning that certain provision or requirement until there is a final court order that makes clear what provisions contained in HB 1413 are constitutionally appropriate, especially if adopting such an approach will not have not have a substantive effect on bargaining.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters, for almost sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others.  As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

 

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