Schuchat Cook & Werner
The right to organize into a union has long been the cornerstone of the labor movement.
Sally Barker and Loretta Haggard have certainly been at the forefront of that fight in Missouri. In 2007, they were able to persuade the state’s supreme court that Missouri’s constitution protects the ability to form and join a union, including for public employees.
But recent actions by the state legislature put that issue back under the microscope with the passage of a bill that targeted certain public-sector unions with hefty requirements for recertification, reporting mandates and other onerous restrictions. The issue prompted the National Education Association and others to push back via a judicial route.
In 2021, the two Schuchat Cook & Werner partners found themselves back in front of Missouri’s highest court.
Haggard said the battle was part of a much wider array of nationwide attempts to fight against the right of public employees to organize.
“Similar efforts were made in other states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa that were similarly devastating to public sector bargaining,” noted the Washington University graduate. “There were some litigation challenges in those states but they were unsuccessful, mostly because, those states, unlike Missouri, do not have a constitutional right of collective bargaining.”
That’s one reason the case over the 2018 law drew so much attention — and amici briefs — from across the country.
“It was a case viewed as important to public sector collective bargaining from a lot of points of view,” Barker said.
The pair approached the case with various arguments.
“The central theme of our challenge was that [the law] essentially decimated the right of collective bargaining in Missouri and was a backdoor way of making the constitutional right extremely weak,” said Barker, a graduate of Saint Louis University. “In the summary judgement at the trial level, the judge essentially accepted all of our arguments that this bill decimated the right of collective bargaining.”
That challenge would continue to be successful thanks to a 5-2 vote that upheld a lower court decision and validated Barker and Haggard’s equal protection argument over the manner in which some unions were included and others were not.
“It was treating different unions’ collective bargaining rights differently depending on who they represented without regard to the duties that those employees performed,” Haggard said.
The entire law was overturned as a result, prompting the state’s NEA president to say that the decision affirmed the rights of not just teachers, but also nurses and public sector workers generally to participate in their unions free of politically motivated interference.