Many Missouri school districts have salary, benefits or health insurance committees with employee representation. These committees have not traditionally operated like a union or labor organization. Nevertheless, with the passage of HB 1413 this year, employee representative committees that deal with salaries or health insurance or other working conditions may fall within the definition of a “labor organization” under HB 1413, thereby triggering requirements for certification by the State Board of Mediation, rules for discussions with the school, and numerous filing requirements by the committee and its officers.
To determine if your employee representative committees might be considered a “labor organization” under the law, we must start with the definition of a labor organization. Under HB 1413, a “labor organization” is “[a]ny organization, agency, or public employee representation committee or plan, in which public employees participate and that exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with a public body or public bodies concerning collective bargaining, grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.” Under this definition, any employee representative committee that deals with the school regarding salary or working conditions, including benefits, is a “labor organization.” Because the law is new to Missouri, it is difficult to state for certain how this term will be interpreted by a Missouri court.
Under Missouri public sector labor law, however, courts have generally looked to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) for interpretation if the NLRA language is similar to the Missouri law. The definition of “labor organization” under the NLRA is very similar to the definition under HB 1413. Based upon a 1959 U.S. Supreme Court case and its progeny, it is clear that the term has been interpreted broadly to avoid management interference with or domination of a union.
Courts have been willing to find that an employee committee is not a “labor organization” when certain factors are present. Each case will need to be considered based upon the facts, but if all factors are present, it is unlikely that a court would determine that the committee is a labor organization.
- Employee representatives are selected by administration, not by employees.
- Employee representatives are selected on a rotational basis allowing for greater participation of individual employees.
- Representatives are not selected based upon affiliation with a particular association (MSTA, MNEA, etc.)
- The committee does not have a stated purpose of “dealing” with the school employer. Its purpose should be merely an opportunity for communication of ideas. Note that the term “dealing” is considered broader than collective bargaining.
- Employees from the committee do not make proposals to administration or board regarding salary or working conditions.
- No formal organization (constitution, bylaws, etc.) of the committee by employees.
- No “anti-union animus” by the administration or board—no attempt to thwart union organization.
- The committee does not have decision making authority.
If all these factors are present, the committee will not likely be considered a “labor organization” under the law. As a result, schools should bear these factors in mind as they consider whether to proceed with salary or health insurance committees with employee representation. It is recommended that schools re-structure any such committees to ensure all of the above listed factors are present to minimize the risk of the committee being challenged as a “labor organization”, or the individual employees held responsible for failure to comply with the law.