Oklahoma Supreme Court weighing in on right-to-work issue

Wednesday, April 30th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Supreme Court has been called in to settle a legal issue that could determine whether the state's right-to-work law survives a constitutional challenge.

Justices are to provide an opinion on whether state law allows right-to-work to remain in effect despite a federal judge's ruling that a few of its provisions were pre-empted by federal law.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver asked for the opinion Thursday. That court is reviewing a lawsuit filed by several unions and a pipeline company challenging the law Oklahoma voters passed in 2001.

Right-to-work prohibits labor contracts requiring employees to pay union dues. Federal law requires a union to represent a worker even if the employee is not a dues-paying member.

In June, U.S. District Judge Frank Seay in Muskogee rejected the unions' claim that right-to-work is unconstitutional.

However, Seay ruled that federal laws invalidate two of right-to-work's provisions: those outlawing exclusive union hiring halls and payroll deduction of union fees. Both are permitted under federal law, Seay ruled.

The unions and pipeline company, Edwards Pipeline Services, argued that invalidating those two provisions nullifies the entire right-to-work law. That's because the law has no provision allowing portions of it to be pared away, they say.

Seay disagreed, and the unions and Edwards appealed to the Denver court. The appeals court gave justices until Jan. 20, 2004, to provide an opinion.

``Now, I guess, it's up to the Supreme Court,'' said Jimmy Curry, president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, one of the unions that sued.

Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said Oklahomans are already reaping economic benefits of the new law.

Oklahomans approved the amendment Sept. 25, 2001, with 54 percent in favor. Twenty-two other states have similar laws.

Supporters say the law will attract more companies to Oklahoma, adding more jobs and spurring economic development. Critics say the law just lowers wages.