Bartlesville, Enid challenging collective bargaining

Wednesday, November 10th 2004, 11:17 am
By: News On 6

The cities of Enid and Bartlesville are challenging efforts by their municipal employees to form unions and bargain collectively under a new state law.

Both cities have filed lawsuits aiming to stop union drives under the law that took effect Nov. 1. The law applies to non-uniform city employees in cities with populations greater than 35,000. State law already allows city police and firefighters to form unions.

Bartlesville is merely seeking a ruling that its population fails to meet that threshold, while Enid is arguing the law unconstitutionally applies only to certain cities and certain types of governments.

The Oklahoma City Zoo Trust is also challenging the law, claiming it simply doesn't apply to the trust, a group appointed by the mayor to manage the zoo.

``Because it only applies to 10 cities, it doesn't apply to state or county governments or to the bulk of cities, it's special legislation,'' Enid city attorney Carol Lahman said Wednesday. ``The state constitution has two provisions prohibiting the Legislature from passing special legislation.''

City employees in both Enid and Bartlesville have filed with the state Public Employees Relations Board seeking recognition as members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Union organizers in Enid accused the city of stalling.

``It's just a shame the city is using taxpayer dollars to reject people's basic civil rights,'' said Patrick Moran, an AFSCME organizer in Oklahoma. ``That's what it all boils down to, wasting good, hard-earned money, taxpayer funds, to thwart peoples civil rights.''

A hearing has been set Nov. 19 in Garfield County District Court.

The city of Bartlesville is arguing that its municipal employees are not covered by the law because the U.S. Census Bureau counted the city's population at only 34,748 in 2000. The bureau estimated the city's population in 2003 at just 34,710, the city's petition says.

``Ours is pretty cut and dry,'' Bartlesville city attorney Jerry Maddux said.

Maddux said he has not heard of any resistance to the filing from union organizers.

Municipal workers from Lawton and Moore have also filed for unionization. AFSCME is organizing drives in Edmond, Midwest City, Muskogee, Norman, Oklahoma City, Stillwater and Tulsa.