Franklin County Highway Department Members Denied Constitutional Right to Bargain
Our Union brothers of the Franklin County Highway Department are to be commended for their showing of Union solidarity and participation. As a public sector unit, no Union Security Clause exists requiring these employees to join or support the Union. Their Union membership is voluntary, yet this unit boasts a 100% membership rate! Solidarity is part of the foundation of the labor movement and these members epitomize the true meaning of the word.
And given recent events playing out in Franklin County, Missouri, the importance of solidarity and unionism are more demonstrable than ever. Last year on July 31st, I met with the County Commissioners to open contract negotiations. At this meeting the Commissioners were not prepared to bargain, and nothing was accomplished. Meeting dates were then requested, and denied, for August. We would soon find out why.
In September, Local 148 was informed by the County’s attorney that it had not complied with Missouri House Bill 1413 (passed in 2018, it made extensive changes to Missouri Public Sector Law) and therefore would not be recognized as the bargaining representative for Franklin County Highway Department employees. This claim was based on the requirement in HB 1413 that Unions hold re-certification elections prior to August 28, 2019. However, in response to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB 1413 filed by IUOE Local 148 and several other Unions, the Circuit Court in St. Louis issued an injunction on March 8, 2019 prohibiting the Missouri Department of Labor and the Missouri State Board of Mediation from administering and enforcing any portion of HB 1413. In August, shortly before the September notification to stall bargaining, Commissioners in Franklin County had passed Commission Order NO2019-337 as their version of a work-around to the injunction which prohibited the MO Department of Labor and MO State Board of Mediation from conducting re-certification elections. The Order provided for a County-conducted re-certification election (employer-conducted certification elections were explicitly prohibited by HB 1413) and greatly restricted the Union’s right to collective bargaining.
In short, Franklin County expressly stated it would not bargain with Local 148 unless Local 148 participated in, and prevailed in an election conducted by Franklin County, even though Missouri Public Sector Law does not require or provide for such an employer-sponsored election. Local 148 took the position that it was already recognized by the MO State Board of Mediation as the bargaining representative for Franklin County Highway Department employees and as such was not obligated to participate in a County-conducted re-certification election. Furthermore, Local 148 maintained that parts of the commission order were unconstitutional.
In addition to the above claims, the County also asserted that Local 148 was not certified with the MO Board of Mediation as the exclusive bargaining representative for the Franklin County Highway Department. This turned out to be an administrative oversight from 2006 when Local 2 was merged with Local 148. Immediately after being made aware of this error, I contacted our attorney and within two days, had an amended certification from the MO State Board of Mediation recognizing Local 148 as the exclusive bargaining representative for the Franklin County Highway Department.
On September 27, Local 148 filed suit in Franklin County to seek an injunction that would force the County to the bargaining table. After several judges in the Franklin County Circuit recused themselves, and one was rejected by the County Commission (each party has the right to refuse one Judge) we were finally assigned a Judge from Gasconade County on January 10th, 2020 to hear the case. At a status conference on February 7th, 2020, the appointed judge granted the County a stay pending a decision from the MO Supreme Court on the constitutionality of HB 1413.
Further strengthening our position that HB 1413 is unenforceable, and as such is an invalid justification for refusal to bargain, on January 29th, 2020 St. Louis County Circuit Judge Joseph Walsh ruled that the anti-union law known as HB 1413 is unconstitutional in its entirety. The Court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the State of Missouri and other defendants from enforcing any part of HB 1413. Despite the decision being final and taking effect immediately, the County continues to stall, responding that they would need to check with the MO Attorney General to see if the State would be appealing the ruling before proceeding with any bargaining.
In a good faith effort to reinitiate bargaining, in late February, Local 148 made an offer to conduct a modified representation election if the County would rescind the commission order that restricts our ability to bargain.
We are currently awaiting any further response from the County Commissioners.
Throughout the course of this battle, we have taken actions to put pressure on the Commissioners to come to the bargaining table. We have printed and handed out handbills to inform the public of the issue and ask that they contact the Commissioners. We highlighted the fact that this legal crusade by the County to deny employees their constitutional right to bargain is an incredible waste of taxpayer money. We contacted the Franklin County Labor Club to ask for their assistance and I must say, their President John Smirker, an IUOE Local 513 member, has gone above and beyond to support us in this fight. Thank you, John, for your embodiment of solidarity!
To push their agenda, the County Commissioner, Mr. Tim Brinker, put articles in The Missourian newspaper. You can read my response in the article, Local 148: Employee Support Is Unanimous — County Refusing to Bargain. Our members are currently in the process of submitting a letter to the editor that will respond to Mr. Brinker’s claim that he’s “not 100 percent sure the employees want a union” or if they in fact want to continue their relationship with Local 148. With a 100% membership rate and a 14-year bargaining history it’s hard to argue that these guys are not already pro-union and proud Local 148 members.
Franklin County has discontinued Union dues payroll deductions since the contract expired December 31st, 2019. This has created administrative headaches for the Union and Highway Department employees and is merely another union-busting tactic of the County’s. In another show of solidarity, our members are standing strong and are faithfully making their union dues payments each and every month. This legal battle has to date cost $20,000. But that is why we join a Union, so that together we can take on the fights that we could not attempt alone.
In closing I want to do two things: 1) to again express the pride I have in our brothers in Franklin County for not just talking about solidarity, but for walking the walk during the course of this entire fight; and 2) to ask that every Local 148 member (and friend, and family member, and neighbor) who reads this to contact the Franklin County Commissioners and tell them it’s time to stop denying our members their constitutional right to bargain.
Tim Brinker, Presiding Commissioner
Todd Boland, 1st District Commissioner
Dave Hinson, 2nd District Commissioner
At the time of writing, Franklin County has refused to recognize Local 148 as the exclusive bargaining representative for Highway Department employees and erroneously citing HB 1413, the County has continued its refusal to engage in bargaining for over nine months.
Doug Williams is a Business Representative for International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 148. He can be reached at (1) 314-865-1300 ext.106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.