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story.lead_photo.caption JANUARY 2019 FILE: Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe talks to reporters during press conference Friday with Gov. Mike Parson, background, to explain the plan to consolidate Crossroads Correctional and Western Missouri Correctional centers in Cameron. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

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The Missouri Corrections Officers Association has filed a new lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court against the Department of Corrections, DOC Director Anne Precythe and the Missouri Office of Administration.

The main contention of the suit is the claim by the corrections officers association that DOC suddenly has denied their representatives access to DOC training classes to speak to new employees in the bargaining unit represented by the association.

By DOC and OA not providing the association with notice they would be doing this, the association claims DOC and OA are violating the Missouri Constitution which allows for bargaining in good faith.

The association also claims DOC and Precythe continue to allow other outside organizations, including for-profit entities, to speak, solicit and sell products and services to new bargaining unit employees during basic training courses. Those groups include the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation, University of Phoenix and AFLAC.

There are approximately 3,300 DOC employees in bargaining unit positions, according to the lawsuit. Association representatives talked to 10-30 new bargaining unit employees in a class at DOC facilities in Jefferson City, St. Joseph and Farmington, explaining employee rights, provisions of their labor agreement and training. They also encouraged new employees to join the association.

In the suit, association officials note the high turnover rate of entry-level corrections officer positions — which, they said, makes it important to speak to new employees during basic training about their bargaining rights.

The most recent labor agreement between the association, DOC and OA expired Sept. 30, 2018.

The association initiated negotiations for a new labor agreement prior to the agreement expiring. As of the time of the filing of the suit, association officials said they have had discussions with DOC and OA about a new agreement.

However, it was immediately after the expiration of the last labor agreement that association officials said they were denied access to DOC facilities, and they claim DOC officials said the only reason for the action was that the labor agreement had expired.

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An association spokesman did speak to new employees late last year and again this spring.

But in mid-May, the association was notified by DOC they would not be able to speak to new employees in mid-June, as had been scheduled. In April, the association said, DOC sent them an email saying association representatives were scheduled to speak to new employees from July through December.

The case has been assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem.

The association is asking the court to enter a judgment declaring DOC's denial of access to the association, to speak to new employees, violates the Missouri Constitution and to enter a permanent injunction preventing DOC and OA from denying the association access.

No date has been set for the case to be addressed in court.

Often, the Missouri attorney general's office is tasked with defending state agencies and state statutes from legal challenges. As of Wednesday afternoon, the attorney general's office could not say whether they would represent DOC in this case. DOC officials, also reached Wednesday afternoon, said it is the department's policy not to comment about pending litigation.

Appeals court to hear DOC lawsuit over pay

The Missouri Court of Appeals has yet to hear arguments on an appeal to a Cole County jury award in favor of corrections officers who accused DOC of requiring corrections officers to work before and after assigned shifts without being paid for the mandated work.

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The work outlined in the August 2012 lawsuit included going through security, signing in, getting their keys and getting to their duty assignment locations for the day.

The DOC denied it should pay employees for time spent on pre- or post-shift activities, arguing the time spent on such activities is minimal and the pre- or post-shift activities are not compensable under state law.

During a civil trial Aug. 10, 2018, Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding the DOC had breached its agreements with the officers.

The jury heard evidence and reached the verdict that the department owes $113,714,632 in damages. Interest in the amount of $5 million has been added to that amount, bringing the total payout to more than $118 million.

The suit covered 11 years, affecting 13,000 officers.

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