In another blow to organized labor in Missouri, the Office of Administration says it will no longer collect union dues from the paychecks of many state employees organized into bargaining units.
In letters dated Dec. 9 to several unions representing state employees, accounting director Stacy Neal cites a rule change put in place in May as the last of several collective bargaining agreements signed before Republicans took control of the state executive branch were set to expire. The new rules barred deductions without an active contract.
Spokesman Chris Moreland, in an email, wrote it was not immediately clear how many employees would be affected statewide. The change affects the Missouri Correction Officers Association and Missouri chapters of the Service Employees International Union and Communications Workers of America.
“The request of CWA to resume union dues deductions and SEIU’s request to increase union dues deductions prompted a review of union dues deductions,” Moreland wrote in response to why the deductions were halted now, several months after the new rule took effect. “The state has or has attempted to engage in collective bargaining with SEIU, CWA, AFSCME, and MOCOA.”
The leaders of some of those organizations tell a different story. Knowing the May 2019 rule was in place, Corrections Officers’ Association Director Gary Gross said the state played hardball in an effort to stymie talks as the organization tried to negotiate a new contract for its 5,000 members. The previous contract expired in September 2018.
“What they did in negotiations, they just literally destroyed everybody’s working agreements and came up with offers that are totally unacceptable,” Gross said. “No one would accept it. So I assume to put pressure on everyone to either get out of the organizations or sign these ridiculous agreements they came up with, they came up with this rule to stop payroll deductions.
“To me, it’s just a flat-out abuse of power and an outright attempt to either eliminate the unions or make them powerless.”
Nancy Cross is the chief negotiator and vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, Missouri Division, which represented some corrections employees as well as employees of the Department of Mental Health and the Division of Probation and Parole.
She said union officials learned from some members as early as September and October their dues were no longer being withheld and only received the letter from the Office of Administration last week.
“When we started researching it, we were not getting direct answers and the letter was sent to us I think the end of last week,” Cross said. “I think from most people’s perspective, the state made changes in the law in 2018, the OA allowed the contracts I represent to expire and did not agree to extension. People that work for the state do not have to be union members, it’s always been open shop, so we are really not sure what the reason they have for no longer deducting dues.
“They told us it’s because our contracts are expired, but the OA never responded to us in writing to figure that out, which puts us in a dance.”
Cross also said with the rule in place, union delegates were given a chilly reception at the bargaining table.
“They had us start as if we had never bargained together before and then they began to work off of the old agreements,” Cross said. “I think overall it’s another way to weaken the unions. There are a lot of other things deducted from people’s paychecks and none of them are being changed.”
The CWA, which represents workers in the departments of Mental Health and Health and Senior Services, regulatory and licensure agencies and even some in the Office of Administration, did not respond to calls or emails to its St. Louis office seeking comment.
Moreland said some collective bargaining agreements in Missouri are not subject to OA involvement, such as the AFL-CIO agreement with the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Home Quality Care Council and the Missouri Home Care Union. Of the unions with deductions handled by the Division of Accounting, it seems only one walked away unscathed by the recent mandate.
Alex Townsend, a political action representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said its contract contains language that even upon expiration, the tenets must be honored until a new agreement is put in place.
“AFSCME Council 61 has a contract with the State of Missouri and so the Office of Administration’s decision will not have an impact on our membership,” Townsend wrote in an email response.
For those who are affected, the move reeks of partisan politics, going back to ousted Gov. Eric Greitens’ promised Right to Work legislation, which was overturned by voters in August 2018. While the rule took effect in May, it was drafted in November, just months after the repeal.
Also in 2018, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed several new laws targeting public employees, including a bill repealing the state merit system and one requiring public employee unions to seek re-certification as a bargaining agent every three years.
The law on union recertification is on hold while a challenge filed by the Missouri National Education Association is heard in St. Louis County. In March, Circuit Judge Joseph Walsh issued a temporary injunction until a trial can be held.
“We had a good strong agreement clear back to when Matt Blunt was governor,” Gross said. “We have always had a very good agreement with the state until recently. We have been here for 20 years in July. This administration, this governor and lieutenant governor, are bound and determined to eliminate unions in this state. It’s a fact. They don’t even make any bones about it.”
While he admits it’s a bit of an anomaly, as Democrats have historically garnered greater support of organized labor, Gross said the MOCOA throughout its 20-year history has endorsed every single Republican gubernatorial candidate to run for office.
“That will not be happening next time,” Gross said.
In the meantime, Corrections Officers’ Association grievance officer, Tim Cutt, seems to have found a silver lining in the action. Given the advent of electronic payment systems and their ease of use, he said members are capable of paying their dues without the state’s involvement.
“We have been getting quite a bit of feedback that people like the idea of the state not knowing if they are a member or not,” Cutt said. “We have seen in the past there is retaliation from the upper echelon of the department if they are a member of a union.
“Even though it’s illegal and it’s hard to prove, they still do it.”