The state of Missouri has stopped withholding union dues from the bimonthly paychecks of prison guards in what the union's grievance officer calls a "pitiful attempt to bankrupt" the labor organization.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the maneuver by Republican Gov. Mike Parson's administration has left the Missouri Correctional Officers Association with a funding shortfall as it negotiates a new contract with the state for 5,000-plus guards and sergeants.

The decision by the state was announced in a Dec. 9 letter from the Office of Administration, which Parson controls. Stacy Neal, director of the agency's division of accounting, said in the letter that the state would no longer withhold union dues because the bargaining unit is not covered by an existing labor agreement.

The union and the state have been negotiating a new contract since the old one expired Sept. 18. Union members have been working under terms of the old contract since then.

Office of Administration spokesman Chris Moreland said union dues deductions also have been discontinued for the Service Employees International Union bargaining units.

An email message left Friday with a spokesman for the Office of Administration was not immediately returned.

Union leaders are trying to enroll officers in a separate automatic payroll deduction program to keep the union operations afloat. Union Grievance Officer Tim Cutt said the results of that campaign won't be known for several months.

As a result of the loss of dues, the immediate future of union programs such as hardship assistance, scholarships and reduced insurance benefits are uncertain, union leaders said.

Missouri prison guards are among the lowest paid in the nation even after Parson earmarked money for raises in the current budget.

In August, the association alleged that Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe barred the union from attending training classes, where it typically informed new employees about the role of the union and the parameters of its contract with the state.

In 2018, a Cole County jury awarded thousands of officers nearly $114 million in back pay after guards alleged they were routinely not paid for work done once they arrived at the facility. The money has not yet been paid.