Bargaining with Bite: Missouri High Court's Constitutional Holdings Alter Public Sector Labor Law

Article excerpt

Eastern Missouri Coalition of Police v. City of Chesterfield, 386 S.W.3d 755 (Mo. 2012); American Federation of Teachers v. Ledbetter, 387 S.W.3d 360 (Mo. 2012)

I. INTRODUCTION

Collective bargaining--negotiations over working conditions between an employer and representatives of their employees (1)--appeared as early as 1891 as labor unions arose in response to the Industrial Revolution. (2) Collective bargaining in private industry was recognized in 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act (3) but was considered prohibited in the public sector. (4) In 1945, the state of Missouri ratified its constitution, which included article 1, section 29, a provision protecting employee collective bargaining rights. (5) That provision, however, was quickly interpreted by courts as applying only to private employees, (6) and thus, public employees had little power to negotiate employment terms. In the 1960s the Missouri legislature passed a number of public sector labor laws that established a very limited collective bargaining framework applicable to most government employees. (7) This area of Missouri law remained relatively untouched until 2007 when, in Independence-National Education Ass'n v. Independence School District, the Supreme Court of Missouri reinterpreted article 1, section 29 as applying to all Missouri employees. (8) The holding was a decisive victory for teachers and law enforcement (who are statutorily excluded from the public sector labor laws) (9) but left many questions as to what the holding would mean. Then in 2012, the Court again interpreted article 1, section 29 in a pair of cases handed down on the same day: Eastern Missouri Coalition of Police v. City of Chesterfield (10) and American Federation of Teachers v. Ledbetter. (11) The decisions considered the scope of article 1, section 29, specifically whether the constitutional right of public employees to collectively bargain imposed a corresponding affirmative duty on public employers to collectively bargain with their employees. (12) The Court held that such a duty is inherent in article 1, section 29--public employers must bargain with employee unions (13) and must do so in good faith with an eye toward reaching an agreement. (14) This Note examines the evolution of collective bargaining rights in Missouri and discusses the import of these 2012 holdings.

II. FACTS AND HOLDING

A. Eastern Missouri Coalition of Police

In the first case, plaintiff Eastern Missouri Coalition of Police, Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 15 (FOP) sued separately the Missouri cities of Chesterfield and University City (the cities). (15) In 2007 and 2008, the majority of the cities' police officers agreed to certify FOP as their exclusive representative for collective bargaining with the cities. (16) FOP asked the cities to recognize their representative status and to establish the procedures necessary for collective bargaining because none existed statutorily. (17) The cities denied the request. (18)

FOP then brought separate suits in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County against each city seeking a declaratory judgment that article 1, section 29 of the Missouri Constitution imposed an affirmative duty on the cities to implement a framework that would allow collective bargaining to take place. (19) The cities answered that no such duty existed and that the court lacked authority to order a public employer to adopt collective bargaining procedures. (20) FOP won both cases, and the trial courts ordered the cities to set up a collective bargaining framework covering the scope of the appropriate bargaining unit, (21) election procedures to certify FOP as employee representative, and procedures for the "meet and confer" process. (22) The cities separately appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, which issued opinions before ultimately transferring the cases to the Supreme Court of Missouri. (23)

The cities' position on appeal was that: (1) a public employer has no affirmative duty to institute a collective bargaining framework for statutorily exempted public employees and likewise no duty to recognize and engage in actual collective bargaining with unions, and (2) the Missouri Constitution's separation of powers doctrine prohibits a court from ordering a city to legislate such a framework. …