Mandatory At-Will Public Employment
Violation of Collective Bargaining Rights
In 2018, the Missouri legislature passed a bill that amended statutes governing state employees and the merit employment system, including declaring most state employees “at-will.” In response, the personnel advisory board amended rules related to suspensions, dismissal, and demotions, including eliminating regulations basing the order of layoffs and recalls on seniority and preventing state agencies from establishing grievance procedures. Respondents, several unions representing state employees, filed suit alleging that the new laws violated state employees’ constitutional rights to collective bargaining and interfered with their contractual rights by unilaterally altering current CBAs. The circuit court, following a bench trial, entered a permanent injunction barring the state from altering existing CBAs and ordering the state to bargain in good faith without constraint from the new laws. The circuit court held that the law did not mandate at-will employment for state employees, but if it did the law would be unconstitutional.
Where the statute stated that qualifying state employees “shall” be considered at-will, it mandated at-will employment, but the law did not preclude the state from bargaining over terms that did not conflict with at-will employment, including grievance procedures, seniority protections, or for-cause requirements, and thus the law did not violate collective bargaining rights. The law also did not violate existing CBAs, which expressly stated that they would not supersede state law.
Judgment is reversed and remanded.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, Council 61 v. State (MLW No. 78970/Case No. SC99179 –33 pages) (Supreme Court of Missouri, Powell, J.) Appealed from circuit court, Cole County, Beetem, J. (Maria A. Lanahan, D. John Sauer, and Jason K. Lewis, St. Louis, for petitioner) (Loretta K. Haggard and Christopher N. Grant, St. Louis, for respondents)