Missouri judge orders new home care union election

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 10:34 AM

A Missouri judge ordered a new election for in-home care providers seeking union representation after a home-care company alleged that the initial vote was predicated on procedural flaws and violations of open-government laws.

The Missouri Home Care Union said Tuesday that it expects a new election to be set up "as expeditiously as possible."

The union is seeking to represent 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 in November 2008 created the Missouri Quality Homecare Council and gave it authority to negotiate with in-home care providers over wages and benefits. A pair of unions that backed the ballot measure then set up the Missouri Home Care Union and sought an election to represent the workers.

Home care providers voted overwhelmingly in July to be represented by the new union. But those election results were challenged in court by Integra Healthcare Inc., which alleged various procedural flaws. It also alleged that the Missouri Quality Homecare Council violated the state Sunshine Law by meeting without first posting a public notice and without keeping minutes.

Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder issued an order last Thursday barring the July election results from being counted and stating that a new election is necessary. He also ruled that the Missouri Quality Homecare Council had violated the state Sunshine Law.

But Kinder rejected the lawsuit's assertion that the council was prohibited from acting because the Legislature had not appropriated any money for it. He also said a new union election did not necessarily have to be conducted under the state's official rule-making procedures.

The judge's point-by-point decisions were posted on a state court Web site. But Kinder had not issued a written ruling elaborating on his decisions as of Tuesday.

Union elections are overseen in Missouri by the state Board of Mediation, which is a part of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Department spokeswoman Amy Susan said Tuesday that a new election will be scheduled when the parties involved request one.

Although it initially defended the July election, the Missouri Home Care Union later changed course to support a new election as the quickest way to resolve the controversy.

The lawsuit "was an attempt to derail the whole process," said union spokesman Joe Lawrence. The court ruling "protected the ability of the Missouri Quality Homecare Council to operate and allows home-care attendants the freedom to decide for themselves what they want to do."

An attorney for Integra Healthcare said Tuesday that he was not immediately available to comment.