Right-to-work plan clears another hurdle

Wednesday, March 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A House committee, rejecting impassioned pleas by opponents, voted by a 2-1 margin on Wednesday to submit the right-to-work issue to a vote of the people in August.

``This bill stinks,'' said Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City. He called it ``an anti-worker bill designed to beat up on the working people of Oklahoma.''

Proponents said Oklahoma is losing jobs as businesses shun the state because it does not have a right-to-work law prohibiting labor contracts that require employees of a company to pay union dues.

As it came to the House, Senate Joint Resolution 1 proposed a statewide vote at the November 2002 general election.

But Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, won adoption of an amendment moving the vote up to Aug. 14 of this year. She said people in her district wanted a speedy resolution of the controversial issue.

Rep. Forest Claunch, R-Oklahoma City, said there is no valid reason for a lawmaker to vote against a right-to-work law ``except to protect the unions.''

Rep. Leonard Sullivan, R-Oklahoma City, said the absence of a right-to-work law is one reason Oklahoma has not progressed economically enough to shake the Dust Bowl image portrayed in John Steinbeck's book, the Grapes of Wrath.

He said only 8 percent of the state's population are union members. ``We're allowing those 8 percent to hold this state back,'' he said.

Rep. Debby Blackburn, D-Oklahoma City, said every economist she has talked to had told her that a right-to-work law was not an impediment to the state's progress. She said of the 20 states with the highest wages, 17 do not have right-to-work laws.

The bill was approved in the House Small Business Committee on a 9-5 vote. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

Republican members of the committee opposed Askins' amendment, worrying that the bill might be derailed if it had to go back to the Senate for consideration of the amendment.

Askins said the special election feature of the bill could be eliminated if the Senate does not agree to the new date.

Principal authors of the bill are Sen. Dave Herbert, D-Midwest City, and Rep. Jack Begley, D-Goodwell.

House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, pulled the bill out of the House Rules Committee on Tuesday when it looked like it would not be heard before a legislative deadline. He assigned it to the small business panel, whose chairman, Rep. Bob Plunk, D-Ada, scheduled Wednesday's vote.

Jimmy C. Curry, president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, said the bill had received ``special treatment'' from legislative leaders since the start of the session.

``We will still fight it, tooth and nail, to the end,'' Curry said.

Voting for the bill were Claunch, Sullivan and fellow Republicans Ron Worthen of Oklahoma City, Mike O'Neal of Enid, John Nance of Bethany and Ray Young of Yukon.

Democrats voting for the measure were Askins, Plunk, and Purcy Walker of Elk City.

Democrats voting against the plan were Blackburn, Lindley, Ray Miller of Quinton, Mike Tyler of Sapulpa and Jim Wilson of Tahlequah.