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Coalition of Graduate Workers v. The Curators of University of Missouri

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

July 30, 2019

COALITION OF GRADUATE WORKERS, ERIC SCOTT, DAVID L. ELLIOTT, JOSEPH DEAN MOORE AND DOUG VALENTINE, Respondents,
v.
THE CURATORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF BOONE COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE JEFF HARRIS, JUDGE

          Before: Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge, Lisa White Hardwick, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge

          VICTOR C. HOWARD, JUDGE.

         The Curators of the University of Missouri (University) appeal the judgment in favor of Eric Scott, David Elliott, Joseph Moore, and Doug Valentine and the Coalition of Graduate Workers (CGW) (collectively Plaintiffs) finding that graduate workers are employees under Article I, section 29 of the Missouri Constitution and that CGW is the duly elected exclusive bargaining representative of graduate workers at the University and ordering the University to recognize and collectively bargain with CGW. The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The trial court decided this case by summary judgment on the following stipulated facts. The University is a public institution of higher learning that offers graduate student programs in a variety of subjects to students pursuing advanced degrees. Many graduate students enrolled in the programs are graduate assistants, graduate teaching assistants, graduate research assistants, graduate instructors, graduate fellows, and graduate library assistants (collectively "graduate workers"). The primary duties of graduate workers include teaching three-hour classes, teaching five-hour classes, leading discussions or laboratory sections of a course, proctoring and grading large lecture exams, preparing and grading lab exams, assisting faculty with research and writing activities, helping students and faculty use microscopes, computers, and other lab equipment, teaching lab sections, keeping the library open and staffed, cataloging new acquisitions, and checking out assigned readings.

         In return for this work, the University pays graduate workers a flat stipend or an hourly wage. The University requires that "[a]ny assignment of responsibilities, such as teaching a course, must be associated with fair and reasonable compensation" and prohibits volunteering for extensive service commitments to the academic programs. The minimum stipend for doctoral level graduate workers is $20, 197.50 per year for academic year 2016-2017; for master's/specialist level graduate workers, the minimum stipend is $18, 361.25 per year. The minimum hourly rate for doctoral level graduate workers is $19.80; for master's/specialist level graduate workers, it is $18.00. Payments to graduate workers are paid as earnings and taxed at the time of payment, and the federal government regards the payments as income for tax purposes.

         Graduate faculty, administrative staff, or principal investigators supervise graduate workers. Supervisors must conduct a written evaluation of the graduate worker's performance at least once a year and should consider specific criteria such as accurate and efficient completion of assigned tasks; independent work; analysis and problem solving; adequate evaluations by students for instructional and tutoring assignments in courses, laboratory, and clinical settings; cooperation with mentor, director, and other graduate workers; and professional and ethical behavior in all assigned tasks and duties, including course studies and research.

         The University includes graduate workers in its workers' compensation coverage, which provides for the payment of medical expenses and compensation to any employee who sustains personal injuries arising out of, and in the course of, his or her employment. Graduate workers qualify for a student medical insurance subsidy that is credited to the workers' university accounts after enrollment in the insurance policy and eligibility has been verified. The University requires graduate workers to complete mandatory employee training on discrimination prevention and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

         Individual Plaintiffs are enrolled in graduate studies at the University's Columbia campus and are graduate workers. Plaintiff CGW is an unincorporated labor organization.

         On December 21, 2015, and January 6, 2016, CGW asked the University to hold an election for graduate workers on its Columbia campus to choose whether they wanted CGW to be their exclusive bargaining representative in collective bargaining with the University. The University denied the request. Despite the denial, CGW held such an election with the assistance of the League of Women Voters on April 18 and 19, 2016. The election ballot asked graduate workers whether they wanted CGW to serve as their exclusive representative in collective bargaining with the University or whether they wanted no representation. Approximately thirty percent of roughly 2, 600 eligible graduate workers voted in the election, and eighty-four percent of the ballots cast were in favor of CGW serving as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of graduate workers. Following the election, CGW sent a written communication to the University's chief of staff, and on May 6, 2016, the University's attorney notified counsel of CGW that CGW's request for recognition as bargaining agent for certain graduate students and commencement of bargaining was denied.

         Plaintiffs subsequently filed the underlying action seeking declaratory judgment that graduate workers are employees within the meaning of article I, section 29 of the Missouri Constitution and asking the trial court to order the University to recognize and bargain with CGW as the exclusive bargaining representative for graduate workers. In the alternative, Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the University violated their rights under article I, section 29 by refusing to hold an election and asking the court to order the University to hold such an election.

         The parties filed a joint stipulation of facts and cross motions for summary judgment. Following argument on the motions, the trial court granted Plaintiffs' motion and denied the University's. It found that graduate workers are employees under Article I, section 29 of the Missouri Constitution and that CGW is the duly elected exclusive bargaining representative of graduate workers at the University and ordered the University to recognize and collectively bargain with CGW. This appeal by the University followed.

         Standard ...


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