Missouri unions sue to overturn ‘paycheck deception’ law
St. Louis Labor Tribune

ST. LOUIS – Fresh off their big statewide win against one GOP-business-right-wing anti-worker scheme – the so-called “right to work” law – Missouri’s unions are taking on another, “paycheck deception.” But this time they’re doing it in court.

The measure, they say, violates the state constitution.

Led by disgraced former GOP Gov. Eric Greitens, a prime pusher of RTW, the top-heavy right-wing majorities in the legislature rammed through this measure, too.

“Paycheck deception,” which the right mis-names “paycheck protection,” is an unconstitutional overreach meant to weaken workers’ rights to collective bargaining, the union coalition says.

It’s also a top cause of the radical right in other states, as part of their determined vicious national campaign to destroy workers’ rights.

To stop it in Missouri, seven unions presenting teachers, patient care professionals, maintenance workers and public safety employees sued to kill it. They said it constrains free speech of most public-sector unions and gives preferential treatment to others.

The law, passed this past session as HB1413, took effect August 28. That’s the same day RTW would have kicked in if two-thirds of Show Me State voters hadn’t rejected it.

“Paycheck deception” would require recertification votes for most public-sector unions to continue representing workers, limit bargaining topics and require annual worker-by-worker OK to deduct union dues or other fees from paychecks or to spend money on political causes.

It also would let bosses unilaterally change union contracts, would ban strikes, picketing or demonstrations of any kind and lets bosses immediately fire those who violate that ban.

And it creates unnecessary and burdensome bureaucratic hoops for unions to represent their members by requiring government employees – other than fire fighters, police and other first-responders – to “opt-in” annually to have their union dues withdrawn from their paychecks.

The right wing and their political puppets push some of those provisions elsewhere around the U.S. The ban on dues deductions, for example, is intended to push workers out of politics. The yearly re-certification votes are in Wisconsin’s infamous Act 10. Iowa’s GOP-run legislature and governor imposed bargaining limits.

The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis County, seeks an injunction and declaration 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.”

Missouri is only one of four states that expressly protects the right of collective bargaining in its state constitution. The lawsuit asserts that HB1413 violates that right.

Greitens signed HB1413 into law on June 1, just hours before he resigned in disgrace ahead of impeachment proceedings on multiple allegations of official and personal misconduct.

The law was part of a slew of unpopular, anti-labor measures enacted by the Republican-led legislature last session. Others eliminated the merit system for state employees, restricted prevailing wages and the GOP’s switch of RTW, then Proposition A, from the November election to the August primary.

The GOP thought a lower turnout in the dog days of summer would let them convince voters to OK right-to-work. They were wrong, big-time.

Paycheck deception would also chop into Missouri state workers’ pay, which is already the ranked lowest in the nation. The new law is designed to weaken the ability of public-sector employees to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

The lawsuit argues the new law violates several rights guaranteed under the Missouri Constitution, including the freedom of speech, association and petition; equal protection; protection against impairment of contracts and the right to organize and bargain collectively.

“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,” said Lori Sammelmann, an instructional coach in the Ferguson-Florissant school district.

“Missouri teachers are already some of the lowest paid in the country. These lawmakers are out of touch with the actual realities and responsibilities we face as public school teachers and would rather silence us and undermine our ability to negotiate for better learning conditions and better pay, while simultaneously giving corporations and the wealthy more power in our political system,” she added.

In an effort to pit workers against each other, the law selectively discriminates against certain types of public-sector employees but not others. It exempts police, fire fighters, and other public safety employees represented by a law enforcement or public safety union, but not those same employees if they are represented by a trade union.

Anti-worker GOP Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin did the same thing in his infamous Act 10, but he was even more selective. Public safety unions which backed him in his first race for governor in 2010 were exempt. Other public worker unions – including other public safety unions – weren’t.

That exemption for public safety workers, the lawsuit argues, “imposes a raft of harsh restrictions on a disfavored set of public-employee labor organizations and their members,” while exempting others. And that, the lawsuit argues, violates equal protection requirements in the Missouri Constitution.

Meanwhile, another Greitens law eliminating the merit system for state workers took effect August 28 amid fears that it could turn state social service jobs into patronage positions.

Under the new law, state government employees can now be “discharged for no reason or any reason not prohibited by law.” The law eliminates the State Merit System, which for more than seven decades required workers to be hired or promoted based on skill and protected them for being fired arbitrarily.

St. Louis Labor Tribune

The legislature established the merit system in 1946 to prevent political patronage when hiring for non-political state jobs and to bring professionalism to personnel decisions. Nothing in the merit system prohibited workers from being fired for cause or poor performance.

Before adoption of the merit system, nearly all state workers – including janitors, secretaries, cooks, nurses, corrections officers and state troopers and others – risked losing their jobs whenever control of the governor’s office switched parties.

Communications Workers Local 6355 President Natashia Pickens told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the new law makes some social service workers nervous.

“We do work for the government,” she said. “If I choose to support a candidate, and that candidate is of the opposite party, am I going to be at risk of losing my job? These are a lot of questions we’ve had, and we’ve not been able to get any responses.”

Under the merit system, most workers are hired based on their performance on standardized tests, rather than their allegiance to a particular politician or political party.

That’s gone, Pickens said. The new law, which passed on virtual party-line votes, also guts established processes that protected merit employees from frivolous complaints.

“You can be fired for any reason and they don’t have to tell you what the reason is,” she added.

Tim Rowden is editor of the St. Louis Labor Tribune          


Tim Rowden
Tim Rowden

Tim Rowden is an award-winning writer and editor with 25 years of progressive experience in daily, weekly and online journalism, media relations, and advocacy journalism, including editor of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune, and reporter and bureau chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.