Independence-Nat. v. Independence School

Decision Date29 May 2007
Docket NumberNo. SC 87980.,SC 87980.
Citation223 S.W.3d 131
PartiesINDEPENDENCE-NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, Independence-Transportation Employees Association, Independence-Educational Support Personnel, Randi Louise Mallett, and Ron Cochran, Appellants, v. INDEPENDENCE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Veralene Campfield, Columbia, for amicus curiae Missouri State Teachers' Association.

Penney R. Rector, Jefferson City, for amicus curiae Missouri Council of School Administrators.

Melissa K. Randol, Kyle M. Farmer, Columbia, for amicus curiae Missouri School Board's Association and Missouri Municipal League.

Frederic O. Wickham, Brian P. Wood, Kansas City, for amicus curiae American Federation of Teachers-Missouri.

MICHAEL A. WOLFF, Chief Justice.

I. Introduction

The Missouri Constitution's bill of rights contains the following guarantee: "employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing." Missouri Constitution article I, section 29.

This case raises two issues:

1. Does the "right to organize and to bargain collectively" apply to public employees as well as private-sector employees?

2. If the public employer, in this case the school district, negotiates an agreement with its employee groups, may the public employer unilaterally impose a new employment agreement that contradicts the terms of the agreements then in effect?

The answer to the first question, which follows the plain words of the constitution, is yes.

The answer to the second question — with the understanding that the law does not require the school district as public employer to reach agreements with its employee associations — is no.

Unquestionably, public employees are differently situated from private employees and are treated differently under the law. The law, for instance, forbids strikes by public employees. St. Louis Teachers Ass'n. v. Board of Education, 544 S.W.2d 573, 575 (Mo. banc 1976). There are two basic reasons for the no-strike laws. The first is that many public employees — especially police and firefighters — are deemed essential to the preservation of public safety, health, and order. The second is that the economic forces of the marketplace — that limit, at least in theory, the extent to which employers can meet employee groups' demands — do not constrain the public sector. In the public sector, meeting the demands of employee groups is thought to infringe on the constitutional prerogative of the public entity's legislative powers by forcing the entity to raise taxes or distribute public services in a manner inconsistent with the best judgment of the entity's governing board.

The trial court held that the Independence School District was not required to bargain collectively with its employees and was not bound by any agreements that it had entered with groups representing its employees.

The rights guaranteed by article I, section 29 apply to "employees." Under the express words of the constitution, this provision is not limited to private-sector employees. All employees, including those represented by the employee associations in this case, have the "right to bargain collectively." Although the employer is not required to reach an agreement with employees as to working conditions, once an employer has done so, it is bound by the terms of that agreement.

The judgment of the trial court is reversed, and the case is remanded.

II. Facts and Procedural History

The facts are not in dispute. The case was tried on a stipulation of facts.

Three employee associations sued the Independence School District, a public school district governed by a board of education. The Independence-Transportation Employees Association represents the district's transportation employees. The Independence-Educational Support Personnel represents the district's custodial employees. These associations are certified as the exclusive bargaining representatives for their respective employees pursuant to Missouri's public sector labor law; section 105.500, et seq.1 The Independence-National Education Association represents the district's teachers and paraprofessionals.

Before the events at issue in this litigation, it was customary for representatives of the transportation and custodial employee associations to meet and confer separately with representatives of the board about proposals relating to the salaries and working conditions of their represented employees. The results of these discussions were reduced to writing in the form of memoranda of understanding, in accordance with the public sector labor law. Each memorandum of understanding was approved by the board's authorized representatives.

Though teachers are not included in the public sector labor law, it was customary for the district to hold discussions with representatives of the Independence National Educational Association relating to teachers' working conditions, pursuant to a "discussion procedure" that was adopted by the board.

In April 2002, the board and the employee groups had in effect memoranda of understanding and, in the case of the teachers, a "discussion procedure" agreement that the board had previously approved.

The board, however, unilaterally adopted a new "Collaborative Team Policy" in April 2002 that changed the terms of employment of the employees represented by these associations. The district did not meet and confer with the employee associations or obtain their consent before imposing the "Collaborative Team Policy."

The new policy conflicted with the memoranda of understanding then in effect for both the transportation employees and the custodial workers. The memorandum of understanding for the transportation employees contained substantive provisions, including those relating to grievances, payroll deductions, discipline, and dismissal, that were rescinded by the board's unilateral adoption of the new policy. The adoption of the policy also resulted in the unilateral rescission of the discussion procedure governing the teachers and paraprofessionals represented by the Independence National Educational Association.

The school district acknowledges that its unilateral adoption of the new policy constituted a refusal to bargain collectively with these employee associations.

The employee associations filed this suit in March 2003 challenging the district's refusal to bargain with them and the district's rescission of agreements that already had been established.

In the previous appeal in this case, the trial court had granted the district's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed the judgment in part and remanded. Independence-National Education Ass'n v. Independence School Dist., 162 S.W.3d 18 (Mo.App.2005). This Court denied transfer. Id. The case was then tried on a stipulated factual record, and the trial court entered judgment for the district. The trial court agreed that the district had refused to bargain collectively with the unions and had unilaterally rescinded its agreement, but concluded that Missouri law allowed such actions.

The employee associations now appeal to this Court which, by order, treated this as an application for transfer prior to opinion by the court of appeals and sustained the application. This Court has jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, section 10.

III. The District's Refusal to Bargain Collectively
A. Is legislative power being delegated?

Appellants' first claim is that the district violated article I, section 29 of Missouri's Constitution by refusing to bargain collectively with the representatives of the employee associations. There is no dispute that the district refused to bargain collectively with its employees.

Despite the plain language of the constitutional provision, which states that "employees shall have the right to bargain collectively," this Court held in City of Springfield v. Clouse, 356 Mo. 1239, 206 S.W.2d 539, 542 (1947), that article I, section 29 does not apply to public employees. If the guarantee applies to public employees, this Court said, the legislative powers of the public entity would be unconstitutionally delegated to nongovernmental entities through the collective bargaining process. Id.

Clouse recognizes that all employees have the right to join unions and to bring "their views and desires to any public officer or legislative body," but distinguishes this from the right to bargain collectively. Id. This distinction is based on the now largely defunct nondelegation doctrine, which holds that it is unconstitutional for the legislature to delegate its rule-making authority to another body. Clouse cites A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495, 55 S.Ct. 837, 79 L.Ed. 1570 (1935), which has been abandoned in subsequent decisions. Schechter Poultry has been called "aberrational" because it is one of very few cases that were "departure[s] from a generous recognition of congressional power to delegate rulemaking authority[.]" United States v. Frank, 864 F.2d 992, 1010 (3rd Cir.1988). Since 1935, the United States Supreme Court has generally upheld delegations of congressional authority. Id.; see, e.g., Lichter v. United States, 334 U.S. 742, 68 S.Ct. 1294, 92 L.Ed. 1694 (1948) (delegation of authority to determine excessive profits); Federal Power Comm'n v. Hope Natural Gas Co., 320 U.S. 591, 64 S.Ct. 281, 88 L.Ed. 333 (1944) (delegation to determine reasonable rates); Nat'l Broadcasting Co. v. United States, 319 U.S. 190, 63 S.Ct. 997, 87 L.Ed. 1344 (1943) (delegation to regulate broadcast licensing).

Similarly, the nondelegation doctrine has been largely abandoned in Missouri. See Menorah Medical Center v. Health and Educational Facilities Authority, 584 S.W.2d 73, 83-84 (Mo....

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