On June 1, 2021, in a 5-2 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court sitting en banc affirmed a circuit court decision that voided in its entirety HB 1413, which was enacted by the Missouri legislature in 2018 and sought to change collective bargaining laws for public-sector labor organizations in the state of Missouri. We previously discussed the circuit court’s decision in our December 14, 2020 post, Missouri Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of Public Reform Law. While the circuit court decision permanently enjoined the Missouri State Board of Mediation and Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations from implementing and enforcing the law, the law was not void with respect to entities that were not parties to the litigation—until the Missouri Supreme Court released its decision. As of June 1, 2020, HB 1413 is void in its entirety with respect to all entities in Missouri.

HB 1413 and the relevant parties

In 2018, the Missouri legislature passed HB 1413, which significantly changed the collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers in the state of Missouri. The statute imposed restrictions and obligations on the ability of public sector unions to organize public workers and to maintain the union’s representational status. Public safety unions and all employees of a public body who are members of a public safety union were exempted from the new statutory provisions of HB 1413. The types of restrictions and additional obligations imposed on non-public safety public-sector unions (non-public safety unions) under HB 1413 were as follows:

  • Required public employees to annually authorize withholding labor organization dues and fees from their earnings;
  • Prevented supervisory employees from being included in the same bargaining units as those they supervised and prohibited the same labor organization from representing both supervisory and non-supervisory employees;
  • Prohibited voluntary recognition of a labor union by an employer;
  • Required a union to receive a majority of votes from eligible union members, as opposed to a majority of all votes cast by union members, to elect or recertify a union as the exclusive bargaining agent;
  • Require unions to be re-certified every three years;
  • Imposed new payment obligation to pay for initial and recertification elections of up to $2,000 based on the size of the union; and
  • Imposed additional limitations on the formation and coverage of labor agreements between public bodies and the union, and required labor unions to adopt a constitution, bylaws, and provide detailed reporting and annual filings.

Public safety and non-public safety unions, however, each represent both safety and non-safety public workers. Under HB 1413, only public safety unions would be exempt from the restrictions and obligations imposed by HB 1413.

Prior to the effective date of HB 1413, seven labor unions (collectively referred to as the “Labor Unions”) that were subject to HB 1413 challenged the statute’s validity and brought suit against the state agencies authorized to implement and enforce HB 1413, employers of the bargaining units represented by the labor unions, and the prosecutor who would enforce HB 1413’s criminal provisions (collectively referred to as the “State”). The Labor Unions alleged that HB 1413 violated constitutionally protected rights under the state constitution, namely, the right to collectively bargain under article 1, section 29; the right to equal protection under article 1, section 2; and the right to freedom of speech and association under article 1, sections 8 and 9.

The circuit court preliminarily enjoined the State from administering or enforcing any provision of HB 1413 and subsequently granted summary judgement in favor of the Labor Unions based, in large part, on its finding that the exemption of public safety unions under the statutory provisions of HB 1413 violated public employees’ constitutional rights. On appeal, in relevant part, the State argued that the circuit court erred by finding that HB 1413 violated:

  • Article 1, Section 29 of the state constitution protecting the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing;
  • Article 1, section 2 of the state constitution guaranteeing equal protection of the laws; and
  • Article 1, sections 8 and 9 of the state constitution guaranteeing the right to freedom of speech and association.

The State also argued that severance of the exemption for public safety unions was appropriate, and that the circuit court erred in refusing to sever the exemption and uphold HB 1413 with respect to all public-sector unions.

Missouri Supreme Court concludes HB 1413 violates the equal protection clause

HB 1413 imposed obligations and restrictions on non-public safety unions but exempted public safety unions from the requirements of the statute. To evaluate whether the dissimilar treatment of the two classifications violated the equal protection clause, the Court analyzed the classification under the rational basis test. The rational basis test is the least restrictive standard of review applied to determine the validity of a statute under the equal protection clause. The Court concluded that the purpose and means of the statute did not rationally relate to a legitimate end and violated the equal protection clause.

Critical to the Court’s analysis was the definition of the public safety unions in HB 1413 and the composition of the members of public and non-public safety unions. HB 1413 defined “public safety labor organizations “as those labor organizations that primarily – but not exclusively –  represent safety employees.” Both by definition and in practice, public safety unions do not represent only or all public safety employees involved in collective bargaining. But HB 1413’s exemption applied only to public safety unions. The State’s reasons in support of the exemption for public safety unions focused on concerns related to public safety employees and their important job functions. The exemption though was related to the type of labor organization not the type of employee.

Moreover, the Court found no rational basis for protecting public safety employees from the provisions of HB 1413. Specifically, the Court remarked that “there is no rational basis for protecting public safety employees from most- if not all- of the new provisions in HB 1413. In fact, the opposite is true.” The Court pointed out that a rational basis exists for preventing public safety employees from going on strike, yet public safety employees were exempt from HB 1413’s provisions prohibiting strikes.

The Court’s evaluation of the constitutionality of HB 1413 based on the equal protection clause obviated the need to consider and determine whether collective bargaining constitutes a fundamental right under article 1, section 29 of the Missouri constitution. Similarly the Court’s conclusion that the classification of public safety unions and non-public safety unions under the equal protection clause failed to satisfy judicial scrutiny under the rational basis test also avoided the necessity of reviewing the statute under the strict scrutiny test, which is reserved for review of statutes or government actions that infringe on a fundamental right or protected classifications. The Court’s decision does not decide the issue of whether collective bargaining is a fundamental right under the Missouri constitution.

Court affirms circuit court decision abrogating HB 1413

The Court reviewed the timing of the legislative changes to HB 1413 prior to passage by the Missouri legislature. Based on its review, it concluded that the exemption for public safety unions from the provisions of HB 1413 was necessary to assure passage of the bill by the Missouri Legislature. As a result, the Court declined to sever the exemption from the statute. The Court also found that the exemption for public safety unions permeated the provisions of the statute and that subjecting all public-sector unions to the provisions of HB 1413 would be more disruptive than abrogation of the statute.

What this means to you

The Missouri Supreme Court decision resolves the uncertainty surrounding compliance issues that public-sector labor unions, employees and employers experienced as a result of the earlier circuit court decision.

If you have questions regarding labor organization activities at your workplace, contact Terry Potter, Demetrius Peterson or your Husch Blackwell attorney.

Tracey Oakes O’Brien, Legal Content and Knowledge Manager, is a co-author of this content.