The Missouri Supreme Court last week returned to teachers and public employees the constitutional right to bargain collectively—a right it had taken away 60 years ago.
Although governments in Missouri are not required to reach agreements with labor unions, they also cannot simply back out of any contracts once they are made, the court said in its May 29 ruling, citing a section of the state constitution guaranteeing employees in general the right to collective bargaining.
The 5-2 decision came in a dispute involving the 10,500 student Independence school district and an affiliate of the National Education Association. Some school employee groups in the district sued the local school board in 2003 after it discarded signed agreements and memorandums of understanding.
In 1947, the state’s high court had ruled that the right to bargain collectively applies only to private-sector employees.
Last week’s decision raised concerns in some quarters, and Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, called it “yet another example of judicial activism, where a court’s action oversteps the bounds of prudent constitutional interpretation.”
“This reckless decision could force cities and school districts to raise taxes and subject Missourians to the threat of strikes by critical public sector employees,” he said in a statement.
Greg Jung, the president of the 33,000-member Missouri National Education Association, called the governor’s comments “way off base.”
“All this ruling says is that you have to talk with your local employee groups,” said Mr. Jung, who called it a “historic decision.”
The state’s largest teachers’ association, the 44,000-member Missouri State Teachers Association, which is affiliated with neither of the two national teachers’ unions, also welcomed the decision, despite initial reservations.
“We were initially afraid [the case] would encompass lots of things we don’t like, like strikes,” said spokesman Todd Fuller.
The decision reiterated that public employees—unlike their private-sector counterparts—are not permitted to strike.
A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2007 edition of Education Week