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Columbia teachers union sues district over stalled talks

The union representing more than 1,000 educators at Columbia Public Schools sued the district over “bad-faith negotiations” this year.

The lawsuit claims CPS’ requirement that the Columbia Missouri National Education Association go through a state certification process to collectively bargain for teachers is impossible to legally satisfy.

A new state law enacted in 2018 requires public labor unions to go through a certification election with the State Board of Mediation. A St. Louis County judge, however, put a temporary hold on the requirement after several unions, including the Missouri National Education Association, sued over constitutional concerns.

CMNEA and CPS began negotiating a new three-year contract for teachers in August. Representatives of CPS said CMNEA’s failure to go through the certification process was a “deal breaker,” according to the lawsuit, and that a contract to date had not been agreed upon.

The lawsuit calls for a judge to stop the district from requiring CMNEA to go through the process as a condition of collective bargaining.

“Basically, this is CPS asking teachers and educators in CMNEA to do something they are legally not allowed to do, and that’s the definition of bad faith negotiation,” said Mark Jones, political director of the MNEA.

District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark did not comment on the lawsuit, but said the union knew about the district’s requirement before the St. Louis County judge’s order.

“The Board was clear that it expected CMNEA to obtain certification by July 1 as required by law,” Baumstark said in an 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.”

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