Oklahoma Supreme Court Upholds Right to Work

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma on Dec. 16 rejected two separate attempts by union lawyers to deny Oklahoma citizens the right to choose whether or not to join or support financially a union, upholding Oklahoma’s constitutional Right to Work amendment which was passed by statewide referendum in September 2001. 


With its ruling the state’s Sup. Ct. effectively ended a two-year legal battle waged by attorneys for Gov. Frank Keating alongside National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys against union lawyers bent on reclaiming the privilege of compulsory unionism they enjoyed prior to that referendum.  “Today is a great day for Oklahoma. No longer will there be a dark cloud over the Right to Work amendment that has already resulted in the creation of new jobs, an increase in wages, and more employee freedom compared to states without such protections,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


In Transport Workers Local 514 et al v. Keating et al, a U.S. Court of Appeals earlier ruled that certain ancillary provisions of the law are preempted by federal law such that it cannot apply to employees working, for example, on exclusive federal property or in the airline or railroad industry (as is the case with all other state Right to Work laws).  However, the federal court accepted a request by Right to Work attorneys that the Oklahoma Sup. Ct. should decide the state law question of whether the federal preemption invalidates the entire Right to Work constitutional amendment.  On the 16th, Oklahoma’s Sup. Ct. held that union lawyers could not prove their assertion that Oklahoma voters would somehow not have approved the Right to Work amendment if they had known that it could not be applied to every single employee in the state.


At the same time, the state’s high court rejected arguments in a separate state court challenge to the Right to Work amendment.  This past summer, Right to Work attorneys discovered the existence of a “collusive lawsuit” filed with the apparent intention by both parties (union and employer) of voiding the state’s Right to Work law without serious arguments made by a party that sincerely supports the law.  Discovering this, Foundation attorneys intervened in that suit representing Stephen Weese, a Tulsa-area employee, to ensure that the law was vigorously defended.


The Oklahoma Sup. Ct. rejected arguments raised by union lawyers in the collusive suit that the Right to Work constitutional amendment violated the due process and equal protections clauses of the Oklahoma constitution. The Oklahoma court followed U.S. Supreme Court precedents dating back to the 1940s that have rejected similar arguments under the U.S. Constitution. [NRTWLDF, 12/16/03]