Unions Sue to Overturn Oklahoma Right-to-Work Law

Six labor unions and the Okla. State AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit Nov. 13 in U.S. Dist. Court in Muskogee seeking to overturn Okla.’s recently enacted Right-to-Work law, which gives employees the freedom not to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment. Voters approved the law, State Question 695, by a whopping 54% on Sept. 25. Despite a provision in the Labor Mgmt. Relations Act of 1947 (Taft-Hartley) providing for state right-to-work laws, the unions allege that SQ 695 violates that very federal statute plus a host of other labor laws, the constitutions of the U.S. and Okla. Similar right-to-work laws are in effect in 21 States.

The six unions are Am. Fed’n of Gov’t Employees Local 916 (Okla. City); Int’l Ass’n of Iron Workers Local 584 (Tulsa); Int’l Ass’n of Machinists Local 898 (Enid); Int’l Union of Operating Eng’rs. Local 627 (Tulsa); Nat’l Ass’n of Letter Carriers Local 1358 (Tulsa); Transport Workers Union Local 514 (Tulsa). Edwards Pipeline Servs., Inc., a Tulsa pipeline services company is also a plaintiff.

The office of Okla. Atty. Gen. Drew Edmondson (D) is expected to defend the suit despite his past ties to organized labor. The Nat’l Right to Work Legal Def. Fdn. has vowed to vigorously defend the law. The case, whose defendants include Gov. Frank Keating (R), has been assigned to U.S. Dist. Judge Frank H. Seay (E.D. Okla., Carter), and briefs are due Dec. 4. Plaintiff attorneys, James F. Frasier and Steven R. Hickman of Frasier, Frasier & Hickman in Tulsa, didn’t ask for a restraining order barring enforcement because they anticipate a “timely decision.”

Columnist  Patrick B. McGuigan said the suit “is a sign of the times. As Republicans gain strength with each passing year–and as voters clearly move toward conservative policy preferences–some Democrats want to use the courts to stop Oklahoma’s political shift toward more business-friendly economic policies.” [Daily Oklahoman 11/15, 11/21/01]

There appears to be some gamesmanship in the selection of the courthouse. None of the plaintiffs are headquartered in the E. Dist. of Okla, in which the case was brought. It’s suspicious because while the N. Dist. of Okla. (Tulsa) has 6 judges and the W. Dist. of Okla. (Okla. City & Enid) has 7 judges, the E. Dist. of Okla. only has 2 judges, and one is a floater between all 3 districts. Thus, it appears that plaintiffs had very good odds of getting the judge they desired.