Good Faith – Bad Result
The Missouri Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in American Federation of Teachers v. Ledbetter. At issue is whether a public school district has a legal “duty” to collectively bargain in “good faith” with a teachers’ union. Currently, districts typically recognize and meet with their teachers’ designated representative, but are under no legal obligation to agree to specific proposals that the union proffers.
In its opinion leading to the supreme court hearing, the intermediate court of appeals noted the following:
. . . no Missouri court has expressly interpreted Article I, section 29 [of the Missouri Constitution] to contain a duty of good faith . . .
If the Court, in a fit of judicial activism, writes a “duty to bargain in good faith” standard into the state constitution, school districts, once vested with substantial discretion from the legislature to manage their affairs, will suffer tremendously. For example, rejections of union proposals will now spawn threats of lawsuits. Districts will hire attorneys to assess the liability risks of decisions once left to the discretion of the districts’ officials. Good faith, in this context, is an invitation to litigate. And litigation diverts scarce resources and money from the districts’ core mission: to educate our children.
Interestingly, the Missouri Legislature has rejected five attempts to statutorily adopt a good faith standard (see footnote 4 in court’s decision). Haven’t the people spoken through their elected representatives? The Court should heed this message and reject a duty to bargain in good faith standard for Missouri’s public school districts.