Judge Slaps Down Union Challenge to Oklahoma Right to Work Law

A federal judge in Oklahoma June 5 upheld the central provisions of the state’s newly adopted right-to-work law, which guarantees Oklahoma workers the right to choose whether to pay union dues.  Oklahoma voters approved the constitutional amendment on Sept. 25, 2001.  In November, seven unions and a pipeline services company in the state filed a federal lawsuit, claiming  that certain provisions of the amendment were preempted by federal labor law, and that the whole statute should be thrown out. (Local 514, Transport Workers Union v. Keating, E.D. Okla., No. CIV-01-633-S, 6/5/02).

However, Judge Frank H. Seay (E.D. Okla., Carter) held that while the Right to Work law cannot be enforced with regard to the limited number of employees laboring under the Railway Labor Act, the law clearly and constitutionally applies to employees who work for private companies under the National Labor Relations Act.  The vast majority of Oklahoma employees fall under the NLRA’s jurisdiction, and are thus protected by the Right to Work law.  Clarifying the limits of the Right to Work law’s jurisdiction, Judge Seay upheld the remaining portions of the law.

“Judge Seay made the right call,” Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau Wynn said in a June 6 statement. “I’m gratified on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who approved the measure last September,” she said. “This was certainly a battle worth fighting to help lay the necessary groundwork for our children to have a better future with more opportunities for success,”

“Union officials despise the notion of allowing employees to decide for themselves whether to join or support a union,” Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Springfield, Va., said in a June 6 statement. “Big Labor’s trumped-up lawsuit was just another insult to the voters of Oklahoma who rejected the unions’ cynical campaign lies and tactics last fall,” he said. NRTW attorneys represented several workers who intervened in the case in support of the law. [BNA 6/7/02]