Unions seek to block new Missouri labor group restrictions

Unions representing teachers and other public employees sued on Monday to try to block a new Missouri law that they claim imposes "a raft of harsh restrictions" that "effectively eviscerates" their right to organize and bargain on behalf of employees.

A Missouri law set to take effect Tuesday will require most public sector unions to hold recertification votes to continue their representation, limit the topics on which they can bargain, and require annual employee permission to deduct dues from paychecks and spend money on political causes.

The lawsuit filed in St. Louis County seeks an injunction and a declaration that the law violates several provisions of the Missouri Constitution, including free speech and due process rights and a specific right for employees "to organize and to bargain collectively."

The law was one of several measures restricting union powers that were enacted by the Republican-led Legislature and former Gov. Eric Greitens, who signed it just hours before resigning June 1 amid scandal. The most prominent measure — a so-called right-to-work law prohibiting mandatory union fees in private-sector workplaces — was overwhelmingly defeated by voters earlier this month after unions submitted petitions forcing a referendum.

"This is another attempt by legislators backed by corporate interests to attack our right to speak up about student needs, class-size, wages and benefits," Lori Sammelmann, an instructional coach and president-elect of the Ferguson-Florissant National Education Association, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The local teachers' union is one of seven plaintiffs that also include the Missouri National Education Association and local chapters of the Operating Engineers, Teamsters and Service Employees unions.

State Rep. Jered Taylor, a Nixa Republican who sponsored the legislation, said he believes it is constitutional.

"Individuals can still collectively bargain. They can still have union representation if they so desire, but at the same time it does hold the unions accountable," Taylor said.

The Senate handler of the bill, Republican Sen. Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis, denounced the lawsuit as "politically motivated."

The new law "is about making government union bosses accountable to their members and ensuring transparency in how their hard-earned dues money is spent," Onder said in an emailed statement.

The law makes most existing public employee unions hold a new certification vote within the next year or two to continue representing employees. Passage requires a greater than 50 percent vote of the employees covered by the bargaining unit, not simply a majority of those voting. If approved, unions would be subject to similar votes every three years.

Unions also would need annual approval from employees to continue deducting dues from paychecks and to spend money on political purposes, including to support or oppose ballot measures. Unions from across the U.S. and Missouri spent millions of dollars to defeat Missouri's recent right-to-work ballot measure.

The new law makes picketers subject to immediate firing and requires labor agreements to include the right for management to change reasonable work rules and procedures. It bars public entities from paying labor representatives for time spent on collective bargaining, unless the employees choose to use their personal or vacation days.

Its provisions don't apply to unions representing state Department of Corrections' employees or to public safety unions that cover such professions as police, firefighters and ambulance personnel.

The lawsuit claims that distinction unconstitutionally discriminates against certain employees and unions.

Taylor's original version of the legislation didn't include the exemption. He said it was added in the state Senate as the session neared its end to help secure the bill's passage.


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