On Government Union Reforms, Present and Future
Although it (surprisingly) hasn’t made much news since, late last month a St. Louis County district court granted summary judgment to union plaintiffs who had filed suit to prevent enforcement of 2018’s House Bill 1413, which significantly reformed the way Missouri oversaw government unions in the state by adding additional reporting and transparency provisions to protect taxpayers and keep unions accountable. To put it plainly and without going into great detail, I disagree strongly with the court’s decision and hope that it doesn’t mark the end of this chapter in the story of reform.
But while the ruling is disappointing, it isn’t altogether unexpected, either. As I wrote in a paper on the subject of government union reform published earlier this year, “ongoing statutory tweaks and court interventions—driven by interests on both sides of the government–labor debate—seem likely to shape how, and whether, reforms are implemented for years to come.” Government unions weren’t going to give up their power easily even in the face of changes to the law, and it seemed reasonably clear after the lawsuit was filed that an adverse ruling was certainly on the table.
That doesn’t mean reform efforts will or should come to an end as litigation on such matters makes its way through the judicial system. In fact, there was plenty for the state still to do even before the Court’s decision on HB 1413, especially ensuring collective bargaining agreements are catalogued by state regulators, and we observed as much in the paper:
Whatever HB 1413’s eventual disposition, any oversight regime that cannot identify all the subjects of that oversight will fail to meaningfully execute its mission. Without effective oversight, the likelihood of patently illegal contract provisions rises. That’s bad for taxpayers and government workers, but it’s also bad for the rule of law.
Currently the legislature is hearing bills dealing with “paycheck protection” reforms, which we’ve talked about before and were part of HB 1413. But as the legislature takes stock of the government union landscape as it moves toward the completion of its legislative year in May, policymakers should also take a hard look at whether the state can effectively oversee any of the reforms that it’s contemplating and whether it has delegated sufficient power and resources to officials to ensure the will of the legislature is being carried out. Changing the law is fine, but a law that can’t be or isn’t enforced will be ignored.