JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri judge has temporarily blocked the certification of a union election for in-home care providers after a company filed a lawsuit alleging election flaws and violations of the state's open-government laws.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem issued the restraining order Tuesday. But neither the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations nor the new Missouri Home Care Union mentioned it Wednesday when announcing vote totals showing the unionization effort passed.
A hearing is set for Aug. 4 on whether to grant a preliminary injunction against certifying the election.
Beetem's order was brought to the attention of The Associated Press on Thursday by an attorney for Integra Healthcare Inc., which filed the lawsuit claiming the election lacked safeguards to ensure the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and wrongly excluded some eligible voters. The suit also accuses two boards connected to the election of violating state meeting laws.
At issue is the potential union representation of about 13,000 workers who help people living in their own homes perform daily activities such as bathing, dressing, cooking and cleaning.
The workers are paid through the state's Medicaid program. A ballot measure approved last November gave the newly created Missouri Quality Homecare Council authority to negotiate with the workers over wages and benefits.
The Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees jointly created the Missouri Home Care Union, which is seeking to represent the personal care attendants. Integra says it has 293 workers who would be represented by the union; the rest of the workers in question have different employers.
The state Board of Mediation, which conducts elections involving public bargaining units, issued a subpoena last month to Springfield-based Integra Healthcare seeking a list of employees who would eligible to participate in the union election.
Integra did not comply and instead questioned the request. Its lawsuit asserts the board acted illegally because it lacked a quorum — its only member was Chairman Jim Avery — and had no formal rules for conducting mail-in elections. The election also lacked procedures to ensure the ballots were cast by eligible voters, Integra's lawsuit asserts.
"It is just a fundamentally flawed process in that the rules were not set out clearly before the election started," said Jefferson City attorney Lowell Pearson, who represents Integra. "No one can have confidence in the outcome of the election."
Among the plaintiffs is an Integra employee, Nancy Stretch, who claims her constitutional due process rights were violated because she did not receive a ballot — a result of her company not submitting a list of eligible voters.
Home Care Union spokesman Joe Lawrence described the lawsuit as meritless and expressed confidence that the election results ultimately will be upheld.
"Their intent is just to be obstinate. Integra has nothing to hang its hat on," Lawrence said.
Labor Department spokeswoman Amy Susan said the agency was complying with the judge's order and referred other questions to the attorney general's office, which declined to comment about the lawsuit. Avery did not immediately return a phone call left for him at the mediation board's offices.
The lawsuit also alleges the Missouri Quality Homecare Council illegally spent money without an appropriation in the state budget and violated the Missouri Sunshine Law by meeting without first posting a public notice and without keeping minutes.
Council Chairman Bruce Lynch, of Poplar Bluff, told the AP on Thursday that the group has spent no money and met only once by phone to elect him as chairman. He said that meeting was organized by the state Board of Mediation.
"I was just participating in the meeting. I don't think anybody thought that far ahead to keep minutes," Lynch said.