In another blow to organized labor in Missouri, the Office of Administration says it will no longer collect union dues from the paychecks of many state employees organized into bargaining units.

In letters dated Dec. 9 to several unions representing state employees, accounting director Stacy Neal cites a rule change put in place in May as the last of several collective bargaining agreements signed before Republicans took control of the state executive branch were set to expire. The new rules barred deductions without an active contract.

Spokesman Chris Moreland, in an email, wrote it was not immediately clear how many employees would be affected statewide. The change affects the Missouri Correction Officers Association and Missouri chapters of the Service Employees International Union and Communications Workers of America.

“The request of CWA to resume union dues deductions and SEIU’s request to increase union dues deductions prompted a review of union dues deductions,” Moreland wrote in response to why the deductions were halted now, several months after the new rule took effect. "The state has or has attempted to engage in collective bargaining with SEIU, CWA, AFSCME, and MOCOA.”

The leaders of some of those organizations tell a different story. Knowing the May 2019 rule was in place, Corrections Officers' Association Director Gary Gross said the state played hardball in an effort to stymie talks as the organization tried to negotiate a new contract for its 5,000 members. The previous contract expired in September 2018.

“What they did in negotiations, they just literally destroyed everybody’s working agreements and came up with offers that are totally unacceptable,” Gross said. “No one would accept it. So I assume to put pressure on everyone to either get out of the organizations or sign these ridiculous agreements they came up with, they came up with this rule to stop payroll deductions.

“To me, it’s just a flat-out abuse of power and an outright attempt to either eliminate the unions or make them powerless.”

Nancy Cross is the chief negotiator and vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, Missouri Division, which represented some corrections employees as well as employees of the Department of Mental Health and the Division of Probation and Parole.

She said union officials learned from some members as early as September and October their dues were no longer being withheld and only received the letter from the Office of Administration last week.

“When we started researching it, we were not getting direct answers and the letter was sent to us I think the end of last week,” Cross said. “I think from most people's perspective, the state made changes in the law in 2018, the OA allowed the contracts I represent to expire and did not agree to extension. People that work for the state do not have to be union members, it’s always been open shop, so we are really not sure what the reason they have for no longer deducting dues.”

“They told us it’s because our contracts are expired, but the OA never responded to us in writing to figure that out, which puts us in a dance."

Cross also said that with the rule in place, union delegates were given a chilly reception at the bargaining table.

“They had us start as if we had never bargained together before and then they began to work off of the old agreements,” Cross said. “I think overall it’s another way to weaken the unions. There are a lot of other things deducted from people's paychecks and none of them are being changed.”

For those affected, the move reeks of partisan politics, going back to former Gov. Eric Greitens’ promised right-to-work legislation, which was overturned by voters in August 2018. The new rule that took effect in May was drafted in November, just months after the repeal.

Also in 2018, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed several new laws targeting public employees, including a bill repealing the state merit system and one requiring public employee unions to seek re-certification as a bargaining agent every three years.