Union workers rally at the state Capitol

Wednesday, February 16th 2005, 12:19 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Carrying signs that read ``Let the Law Work,'' union workers rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday and demanded that lawmakers stop trying to repeal a collective bargaining law that requires some Oklahoma cities to negotiate with city workers.

``I think employees need to be employees. They're not slaves,'' said Jim Nimmo, an employee of the Oklahoma County Library System who was among about 300 workers at the rally, including municipal workers affected by the collective bargaining law.

``There's a need for this law to better wages and working conditions,'' said Victor Gorin, a retired member of the Communications Workers of America. Nearby, a municipal worker held a sign that read: ``Negotiate Don't Dictate.''

``If the law is scaled back, it will limit the choices employees make in their lives,'' Nimmo said.

The repeal bill's author, Rep. Bill Case, R-Midwest City, has said the collective bargaining statute could lead to a decline in services and impose an unfunded mandate on local governments. The measure is pending in the state House.

The author of the Oklahoma Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act, Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, and others denied the law will would create an unfunded mandate and blamed the Oklahoma Municipal League for spreading misinformation.

The OML's executive director, Danny George, has said the organization supports the law's repeal.

``This is democracy and this is freedom. And this is something government shouldn't meddle in,'' said Erlene Maroon, a city worker in Lawton where 70 percent of the municipal work force has unionized.

Passed by the Legislature last year, the law requires cities with populations greater than 35,000 to collectively bargain with municipal employees.

The statute affected about a dozen cities across the state. Existing law already allowed city police and firefighters to form unions.

Last month, Oklahoma County District Judge Daniel Owens ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminates against workers in smaller towns and cities. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents the city workers, has said it will appeal.

Bob Cameron, a city worker in Moore, questioned statements by George that private sector studies have shown a newly unionized work force leads to a 25 percent increase in spending.

``I'd love to have it but it's not going to happen,'' Cameron said.

``For some reason in this state and nation, there is an assault on working families,'' said Rep. Richard Morrissette, who described the collective bargaining law as ``a good law and a fair law.''

``No one is forced to join a union. But if people want to join a union, they should be able to do so without government interference,'' said Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.

Union workers said cities are spending thousands of dollars to fight the collective bargaining statute instead of using the money to upgrade city services.

``It is time to stop fighting city workers and start fixing city problems,'' Maroon said.