State judge says new labor law invalid

Monday, January 17th 2005, 9:28 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A new state law allowing municipal employees to unionize in about a dozen Oklahoma cities is unconstitutional, Oklahoma County District Judge Daniel Owens ruled Wednesday.

Owens issued an order prohibiting the Oklahoma Public Employees Relations Board from certifying a union as the collective bargaining agent for city employees in Enid.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said they will appeal Owens' decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The law passed by the 2004 Oklahoma Legislature requires cities with populations greater than 35,000 to collectively bargain with municipal employees.

Owens said the law was invalid because it discriminates against workers in smaller towns and cities.

``It's fundamentally unfair to other municipal employees throughout the state of Oklahoma,'' he said.

He said the Legislature gave no reasons for requiring certain cities to collectively bargain with its workers.

Tony Puckett, Oklahoma City labor attorney representing the City of Enid, argued the law unconstitutionally usurped municipalities' right to make decisions involving their employees.

Sue Wycoff, attorney for the union, said Oklahoma lawmakers had passed many laws that applied to municipalities of certain populations.

She argued that the Legislature had good reason to apply the bargaining requirement to larger cities because that's where most facilities that affect the health and safety of Oklahoma citizens are located.

Puckett said that just because there are many laws on the books that apply to cities of certain populations, they are not necessarily constitutional.

Owens stressed that his ruling only affects Enid, saying a different judge ``might rule differently.''

Others challenging the new law include Broken Arrow, Lawton, Moore and the Oklahoma City Zoological Trust.

He said he is hoping that a challenge to the Supreme Court will lead to district judges having ``more direction'' on how to decide if such laws are constitutional.

Joey Breeze, an Enid city employee, issued a statement calling Owens' decision ``irrelevant.''

Breeze said city officials have ``the ability and moral obligation'' to recognize the union.

``We again call upon Enid politicians to do what is right for our community_ voluntarily recognize our union and stop wasting tax dollars on a lawsuit against us,'' he said.

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