Columbia Public Schools and its teachers union both filed motions last week as part of a lawsuit in which the union says the district acted in bad faith during collective bargaining negotiations.
The lawsuit, filed in April, states the district violated constitutional rights of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association when it demanded the union gain certification credentials required under a new state law.
House Bill 1413, which passed in 2018, requires all exclusive bargaining units to be certified by the State Board of Mediation — a requirement the CMNEA does not have. To maintain its rights to collectively bargain as the recognized representative of Columbia public school teachers, the association must gain the board’s approval by June 30.
The certification, however, is unattainable after a March decision by a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge barred the Board of Mediation from carrying out any part of HB 1413. Because of the ruling, the CMNEA cannot gain certification from the Board of Mediation for the time being.
The latest CMNEA motion, filed Friday, requests a preliminary injunction to bar the district from enforcing parts of HB 1413 until the conclusion of the union’s lawsuit. Enforcement of HB 1413 would cause the association to lose its exclusive bargaining rights following the June 30 deadline. CMNEA President Kathy Steinhoff said the motion asks the court to protect teachers’ constitutional rights to choose their bargaining representative while the issue is settled in court.
“Instead of working with teachers to secure a contract that improves the conditions in Columbia Public Schools, the Board has chosen a path that is divisive and controlling,” Steinhoff said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the district filed a motion Thursday seeking a complete dismissal of the case. Although the requirement district officials are asking for cannot currently be met, they believe the union had plenty of time to gain the certification prior to the March court ruling in St. Louis.
District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the timespan from the law’s enactment last June to the March injunction provided ample opportunity for the association.
“It seems a little disingenuous to say we acted in bad faith,” Baumstark said in an interview.
She noted that Missouri National Education Association groups in the Rockwood and Pattonville school districts managed to gain certification from the Board of Mediation before the St. Louis court ruling in March.
“The Board was clear that it expected CMNEA to obtain certification by July 1 as required by law,” Baumstark wrote in a follow-up email. “They were informed of this expectation back in August and then again in December and at each of the eight bargaining sessions in which the district participated.”
The union’s initial lawsuit filing states that “many public employers ... have recognized that HB 1413 cannot be meaningfully implemented while the State Board of Mediation remains enjoined ... and are continuing to conduct their labor relations under pre-HB 1413 standard until the St. Louis County action is ultimately resolved.”
There is no projected timeline for either court case, but with the certification deadline set for June 30, the clock is ticking for CMNEA to keep its collective-bargaining rights.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.