Collective bargaining in plain English

“Employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.”


This language is found in Article I, Section 29 of the Missouri Constitution. The meaning of this language is clear. However, despite this provision of the Missouri Constitution, public employees in Missouri were barred from collective bargaining for almost 70 years. The reason was a 1947 Missouri Supreme Court decision that interpreted this language as not applying to public employees.



The Missouri Constitution, which contains this provision, was adopted in 1945. During the debates leading up to the drafting of the Constitution, there was extensive discussion of this provision. Several amendments were offered, with the purpose of trying to limit its scope in relation to public employees; however, each of those amendments was defeated. Clearly, the drafters of the Constitution did not intend to restrict this provision to private-sector employees.

Two years after the adoption of the Constitution, the Missouri Supreme Court was presented a case involving labor unions representing employees of the City of Springfield. The Court decided that Article I, Section 29, of the Missouri Constitution did not apply to public employees. Although all people, including public employees, have the right “to peaceably assemble and organize for any proper purpose, to speak freely and to present their views to any public officer or legislative body” under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Missouri Supreme Court decided that this right is separate from the right to bargain collectively. Therefore, public employees in Missouri, according to the Clouse decision, have the right to join associations and to present their views to public officers and public bodies. However, they do not have the right to engage in negotiations with these public officers and public bodies for the purpose of arriving at a binding labor contract. City of Springfield v. Clouse, 206 S.W.2d 539 (Mo. banc 1947).  Missouri was one of only 15 states that prohibited public employee collective bargaining.


Missouri NEA believed the plain language of the Missouri Constitution guaranteed all employees, including public employees, the right to engage in collective bargaining and in 2005 we filed a lawsuit challenging the Clouse decision. After a two-year long court battle, the Missouri Supreme Court sided with Missouri NEA and, on May 29, 2007, Missouri public education employees regained the right to bargain collectively for the terms of their employment.  The legislature has yet to enact legislation on how the right will be implemented but several teacher groups are already working to exercise this long-lost right.


Stay tuned for more information collective bargaining rights, and rest assured that MNEA, as always, is fighting for the rights of its members and the integrity of public education.

by Jacquie Shipma
MNEA manager of legal services



Collective bargaining fast facts

  • The Missouri Constitution grants all Missouri employees, public and private, the right to bargain with their employer.
  • A Supreme Court case in 1947 and subsequent state statutes had taken away public employees’ constitutional rights to bargain.
  • Current law (RSMo 105.510) creates a process for support staff the right to elect a representative to meet and confer with the district. Teachers are excluded from this statutory structure even though they still have the constitutional right to collective bargaining. Many teacher groups are actively working toward exclusive representation and collective bargaining even in the absence of a statutory structure.
  • Current law (RSMo 105.510) does not require meet and confer agreements to be reached by the parties.
  • Collective bargaining is a process by which the local teachers have input with the local school board on local issues. Collective bargaining levels the playing field between employees and employer and legally protects the employees’ right to play an equal role in decisions that affect their work.
  • The collective bargaining process costs nothing. There are no automatic costs to a school district that bargains. Costs are incurred only if the parties choose to use an attorney or arbitrator, and the cost of an arbitrator is generally split between the parties.
  • Even though an exclusive representative is elected, no Missouri statute forces anyone to join or pay dues to any organization. Collective bargaining will not alter our constitutional right to freedom of association.
  • Collective bargaining provides teachers the choice to change the process that is currently used. Collective bargaining by definition is not controversial. It is an open process allowing all stakeholders a seat at the decision-making table. Collective bargaining is a process that works in 34 other states, including the neighboring states of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois.
  • With collective bargaining, local educators and the local board can choose what issues to bring to the table to bargain. In many school districts in states where bargaining occurs, issues such as textbooks, teaching assignments, discipline policies, time for professional development, class size, adequate equipment and supplies have been bargained.
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