The Independence National Educators Association believed it had finally received a resolution four years ago in a collective bargaining lawsuit filed against the Independence School District.

The Independence National Educators Association believed it had finally received a resolution four years ago in a collective bargaining lawsuit filed against the Independence School District.

And while the situation has changed locally, other public employees throughout the state are having to file their own lawsuits because of a stipulation in that 2007 ruling that has not been met by the Missouri General Assembly.

“Collective bargaining provides a meaningful framework for employees, in their respective employment category, to have an equal voice in determining the terms and conditions of employment,” said Mindy Nix, president of the INEA. “Employees are the closest to the work they perform and can bring firsthand experience to the negotiations table to improve their working conditions. They are the experts in the work they perform and should have equal voice in determining the best practices of providing a quality education environment for the students the district serves.”

The INEA lawsuit, which also involved the Independence Transportation Employees Association and the Independence Educational Support Personnel on the side of the INEA, ended in 2007 with a decision from the Missouri Supreme Court. In its decision, the court said all employees in Missouri have a constitutional right to collective bargaining.

Shortly after, Nix said the Independence School District changed its processes, agreeing to create a framework for teachers to determine who will hold their exclusive representation to bargain an agreement, which ultimately was the INEA. Those agreements include those pertaining to salaries, benefits and working conditions, which are decided annually. In addition, she said the school district recognized the other associations, the ITEA and the IESP, as the exclusive representatives of their employee groups.

But that was not the case statewide.

The Supreme Court’s 2007 decision placed the responsibility of creating laws to establish a collective bargaining framework in the hands of the legislature. Because that never happened, the American Federation of Teachers and two police groups in the St. Louis area have sued. The Supreme Court heard arguments in all three suits last month. The outcome could determine if employers have to bargain in good faith and how employees choose their unions.

The legislature has brought up collective bargaining numerous times since 2007. A bill to establish a collective bargaining framework was filed in the Senate in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and never came out of committee, and the same happened in the House in 2009 and 2010. Neither legislative body discussed the issue in 2011, according to the state of Missouri’s bill tracking system.

“Public employees have had no other choice but take their claims to court when a public governmental body has refused to bargain with their employee,” she said. “Absent enabling legislation has led to chaos and confusion with no clear path for employees to choose their exclusive representative or to negotiate an agreement.”

Nix said the INEA is watching what happens in the Missouri Supreme Court closely. While the 2007 decision requires districts to bargain collectively with employees, it does not require the school district and the employee group to reach a decision. In June, the Independence School District and the ITEA and IESP failed to reach a tentative agreement on salaries and the district imposed a salary schedule for those two employee groups. Nix said the district and INEA did reach tentative agreement and INEA and the board ratified the agreement.

“While all three of these cases are important, the case brought by American Federation of Teachers v. Ledbetter (one of the three in St. Louis) is the case being closely watched. This case seeks to resolve the issue of an employer’s duty to bargain in good faith. Since public employees have a constitutional right to collective bargaining, does the exercising of this right place a duty on the employer to bargain in good faith with their employees,” Nix said. “If the court finds in favor of AFT in this pending decision, it could ultimately require public employers to bargain in good faith their employee organizations. A right to bargain collectively without a duty of the employer to bargain collectively is a hollow right.”