A resolution by Sen. Dave Herbert, D-Midwest City, calling for a May 22 statewide vote on the right-to-work issue was approved 14-1 in the Senate General Government Committee. There was no debate.
During a committee recess, hundreds of union members, who sat silently during the vote, chanted "right to work's a ripoff" as they left the Senate chamber.
The resolution, which goes to the full Senate for consideration, originally called for a vote on the issue at a special election on Aug. 7.
But Rep. Jim Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, House minority leader, won approval of an amendment moving the date up to May 22, three days before the end of the legislative session.
Supporters of the resolution, which is backed by Gov. Frank Keating, contend it will bring jobs to Oklahoma.
Opponents argue it will weaken unions and produce mainly low-paying jobs.
"It was very disappointing to see this railroaded through,"
said Jimmy C. Curry, president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO.
Seven Democrats joined with six Republicans to pass the measure.
The only "no" vote was cast by Sen. Herb Rozell, D-Tahlequah.
Curry said the Democratic Party had always cast itself as the party of the common worker "so to have them do this is a slap in the face."
He said moving up the election was "an obvious attempt to silence the voice of the working people and not give us a chance or the opportunity to explain what this is all about."
Dunlap said he wanted a May election "to get it over with" and it was not an effort to silence anyone. "That cuts both ways," he said. "It doesn't give much time for the business people to raise money, either."
The plan was expected to be considered by the Senate later in the week. If it passes, it would go to the House.
A battle over right to work led to a political showdown last year in the Senate when Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin forced a right-to-work vote by exercising her constitutional right to preside over the legislative body.
Right-to-work supporters lost a narrow vote and the issue was put to rest for the session.
Last week, Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, signaled his intention to allow a Senate vote on the right-to-work referendum by assigning it to a friendly committee.