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State workers heading back to court over Missouri's bid to block labor unions

State workers heading back to court over Missouri's bid to block labor unions

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The Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City pictured on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson’s administration is appealing a major court decision calling on him to resume contract talks with labor unions representing some of the lowest-paid government workers in the nation.

In May, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that a 2018 law, signed by former Gov. Eric Greitens on his final day in office, was unconstitutional and does not restrict collective bargaining.

Beetem directed the state to resume contract talks in good faith with the unions. He also ordered state agencies to begin processing grievances workers have filed over the past three years.

The judge said the state must abide by the terms of the now-expired contracts until a new agreement is reached or an impasse occurs.

On Friday, Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office, acting on behalf of the Republican administration, filed a notice with the court that it would appeal Beetem’s decision, setting up another round of legal wrangling that will delay future collective bargaining talks.

The decision affects an estimated 13,465 state employees covered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the Communications Workers of America Local 6355; and Service Employees International Union, Local 1.

It also could affect unions that didn’t directly participate in the case, including one representing prison workers.

The 2018 law altered the state’s merit system by making it easier to hire, fire and reward workers.

The Republican-backed 2018 law put all state employees under the same, nonmerit regulations. The state removed testing requirements to qualify for jobs and terminated the appeals process for a merit system employee who was disciplined or fired.

Although Parson has worked to boost the pay for state workers, his administration has not negotiated new contracts with the unions since he took over for Greitens.

The low pay and resulting turnover of employees has forced some agencies to shut down facilities or services. At the Department of Corrections, for example, there are fewer inmates at the women’s prison in Vandalia because of a lack of workers.

The Missouri Veterans Commission also has stopped accepting additional residents at its nursing homes because of staffing problems. Pay at the homes is significantly less than what nurses can earn in the private sector.

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