Leaders from Local 148, the group representing Franklin County Highway Department employees, said they are hopeful their lawsuit against the county commission will be heard by a judge before the end of the year.

International Union of Operating Engineers Local 148 business representative Doug Williams told The Missourian support for union representation is unanimous, despite what county commissioners may say.

“There are 51 employees in the highway department, and all 51 are members of the union,” Williams said. “I think that shows support. These are hardworking people who just want to exercise their constitutional right to collective bargaining.”

Lawsuit

Recently, Local 148 filed a lawsuit against Franklin County for refusing to recognize the local as the bargaining agent for the highway department employees although it has been since 2006.    

County Counselor Mark Piontek argues the commission is following the parameters of legislation passed by the Missouri General Assembly and signed by then Gov. Eric Greitens in early 2018.

House Bill 1413 made extensive changes to Missouri Public Sector Law and requires all bargaining units to hold elections within their membership to determine if they want the same or any union representation.

There have been two court cases challenging HB 1413 and a Boone County court has placed a temporary stay on the new rules until a final decision is made.

There is another court case set for trial in St. Louis County in January, which may revoke or keep the bargaining requirements in place, but that won’t be heard before the current highway department contract expires Dec. 31.

Williams and Local 148 contend the county’s actions are illegal and as long as the Boone County injunction is in place blocking implementation of HB 1413, the current contract and bargaining agent remain in place.

“We are recognized by the state board of mediation,” Williams said. “It is signed and approved. We filed the lawsuit hoping a judge will force the county to recognize us while the court cases are pending.”

Williams added attorneys for the union do not understand the county’s logic since there is an injunction on the legislation in place, why the county would fight bargaining and will not recognize Local 148 as the bargaining agent.

“I know there are a lot of attorneys out there saying different things,” Williams said. “But, this is a waste of taxpayers’ money. The county is using Mr. Piontek and they called in another attorney from his firm. Who knows how much that is costing. I’ve talked to (Second District Commissioner) Dave Hinson and he says they are just following the advice of their attorney.”

Williams added the lawsuit also is asking a judge to order the county to pay the legal fees for the union if they are victorious in the lawsuit.

Stoppage

State law prohibits public sector employees from striking and Williams has confirmed there will be no illegal work stoppages.

He also rebutted comments from Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker the employees would not have representation since they would still be operating under the parameters of the current contract, which recognizes Local 148 as their agent.

Earlier this week, Brinker confirmed the county employees would continue to receive all pay and benefits even if a new contract is not negotiated before the end of the year.