Collective bargaining repeal bill passes state House committee

Tuesday, February 15th 2005, 6:18 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Municipal employees criticized a legislative committee's vote Monday to repeal a state law that requires some cities to collectively bargain with city workers.

The House County and Municipal Government Committee voted 5-2 to send the measure on to the full House for a vote after its author, Rep. Bill Case, R-Midwest City, said the statute will not result in better government but lead to a decline in services.

``For some it may sound like a fair thing to do,'' said Case, former mayor of Midwest City. ``The cities affected feel very strongly this creates an unfunded mandate.''

Bobby Benoit, a city worker in Lawton, said he and other municipal workers were disappointed by the committee's vote.

``If city employees choose to have a voice on the job, we should be free to do so,'' Benoit said.

``They ought to just let the law work,'' said Blaine Rummel, spokesman for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. Rummel denied that the law creates an unfunded mandate on cities.

``It will improve city services, it will give city employees a voice on the job and it will reaffirm the freedom city employees have to join a union if they choose,'' Rummel said.

The Oklahoma Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act, passed by the Legislature last year, 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. AFSCME has said it will appeal.

Case said Owens' decision gave more credibility to his repeal bill. He said the statute could lead to higher fees and taxes and result in a loss of control by municipal managers over their employees.

Benoit said municipal workers want only the same collective bargaining rights that police and firefighters have had for more than 30 years.

``The government should not meddle in our affairs,'' he said.

The measure is House Bill 1004.