Oklahomans voted to become the twenty-second Right to Work State on Sept. 25 with a surprisingly large margin of victory 54.2% to 45.8%. “We’re alive,” Okla. Gov. Frank Keating (R) exclaimed in a victory speech. “For too long, we’ve been held back and held down. We are now open for business.” The official returns showed that State Question 695, the Right to Work proposal, garnered 447,072 votes for versus 378,465 against. SQ 695 places Right to Work language in the Okla. Constitution as of Sept. 28.
Right to Work laws secure the right of employees to decide for themselves whether to join or financially support a union. According to the Okla. Dep’t of Labor, violation of the new law is a misdemeanor, which can be prosecuted by a dist. atty. Individual employees may also seek relief through the courts. The new law will apply to employment contracts entered into after the effective date of the act.
In non-Right to Work States, many employees in a unionized work place have no choice but to financially support the union. Unless a State takes an affirmative action, its work force is not protected from forced unionism. Right to Work laws are possible thanks to the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which carved out this exception to fed. labor law. Idaho was the last to adopt a Right to Work law in 1986. The other Right to Work states are: Ala., Ariz., Ark., Fla., Ga., Iowa, Kan., La., Miss., Neb., Nev., N.C., N.D., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Tex. Utah, Va., and Wyo.
One expert told the UCU that the success in Okla. may embolden lawmakers in Colorado and Montana to act on a Right to Work law. There is a report that “fears are mounting” in Missouri labor circles about a Right to Work law. In West Va., columnist Bob Kelly noted the bipartisan Right to Work campaign in Okla. and reported: “In their hearts, though they dare not utter it publicly, some big guns in the Democratic establishment believe a move like Oklahoma’s to be the simplest and most effective way to halt West Virginia’s long slide in jobs and population.” [Daily Okla. 9/26, 9/29/01; Tulsa World 9/29/01; Columbia (Mo.) Daily Trib. 10/1/01; Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail 9/28/01]