Teachers Union Case v. Charter School District Going to MO Supreme Court

Teachers' rights to bargain collectively in Missouri are now headed to the state supreme court.
Teachers' rights to bargain collectively in Missouri are now headed to the state supreme court.


Are Missouri school boards required to collectively bargain with unions representing their faculties -- and, even more importantly, to do so in good faith?

That's the question now heading to the Missouri Supreme Court. The American Federation of Teachers and its St. Louis affiliate, Local 420, originally sued a local charter school district board -- and lost -- in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. But the appellate court indicated in a ruling today that it's likely to agree with the union. It forwarded the case to the Missouri Supreme Court "in light of the general interest and importance of the question presented."

This is the third recent case involving union rights and public employees that the appellate judges have punted to the Missouri Supreme Court. (The other two, forwarded for review two weeks ago, involve the right of local police officers to bargain collectively.)

But while tough questions loom for the state's highest court, we can't help but be intrigued by the details of the case.

The American Federation of Teachers had argued that the board of a local charter school district had violated employees' constitutional right to collective bargaining. The union had been recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent for teachers at the Construction Career Center Charter School District -- but despite meeting eighteen times between May 2008 and April 2009, the two parties were unable to come to an agreement.

Ultimately, the trial court agreed with the union that the school board "did not bargain in good faith as that term is understood under federal labor law." But, the trial court found, Missouri law did not require them to do so. Hence the verdict in favor of the school board.

So what's funny about that? Well, it turns out that the charter school, while publicly funded, is actually operated through a partnership with a trade group -- the Associated General Contractors of America. The trade group boasts that it appointed seven members of the school's board of education, including "four AGC contractors, a building trades representative, an educator and a parent."

So it's not some cost-cutting conservative arguing that the school district doesn't need to bargain in good faith -- and it's not Missouri's version of the much-hated Koch Brothers.

It's the national trade association of a largely unionized industry.

That's got to gall the American Federation of Teachers. The good news for them today is that they'll have another chance to make their case in court -- this time with potential statewide precedent. And if they lose, well, we can only imagine there's going to be a lot of local unions livid at the Associated General Contractors of America.

This story was updated to reflect new information at 5:30 p.m. The post previously stated that the Associated General Contractors of America was a union, which is not true; the group is a trade association. And that doesn't mean in the U.S. what it means in Great Britain -- trade associations here are groups meant to promote an industry, not necessarily represent its workers. We regret implying anything otherwise in this case.

About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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