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Latest News - March 2011

March 28, 2011
Oklahoma Senate panel OKs collective bargaining repeal
Source: NewsOK, The Oklahoman
By: John Estus

Oklahoma House Bill 1593 would repeal a 2004 law that requires some cities to negotiate with nonuniformed city employee unions. Republicans passed the bill out of the Senate General Government Committee on a party-line vote amid criticism it could amount to public employee union busting.

The Legislature continued to take aim Monday at repealing collective bargaining rights for city employees in some of Oklahoma's largest cities.

Republicans passed House Bill 1593 out of the Senate General Government Committee on a party-line vote amid more criticism it could amount to public employee union busting.

The bill would repeal a 2004 law that requires cities with more than 35,000 residents to collectively bargain with nonuniformed employee unions.

In Oklahoma, those unions consist mostly of city road and utility workers.

Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City, said the bill simply lets city officials decide whether to collectively bargain with the workers rather than requiring it.

But Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said most cities would likely decide against negotiating with the unions if it isn't required, resulting in thousands of workers losing bargaining rights.

A state labor leader called HB 1593 part of a nationwide assault on public employee labor unions.

“We had a bunch of very anti-worker bills that were introduced this year,” said Jim Curry, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Not all unions affected

Legislators have said nine cities began collective bargaining with nonuniformed employee unions due to the 2004 law.

HB 1593's House author, Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, has said the bill is not intended to repeal collective bargaining in the four cities — including Oklahoma City and Tulsa — that were negotiating with nonuniformed worker unions before 2004.

Still, labor supporters have said the bill creates a slippery slope that enables all cities to abandon collective bargaining regardless of when the bargaining began. The bill repeals the entire Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act.

State and county workers in Oklahoma do not have collective bargaining. HB 1593 would not apply to police, firefighter or teacher unions.

The union most affected by the bill would be the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has chapters statewide.

Federation members who attended Monday's committee meeting said supporters of the bill are misguided because they see it as a way to prevent high salaries for public employees.

Matt Thomas, chairman of the Midwest City chapter of the federation, said collective bargaining also gives employees a unified voice on nonsalary issues, such as working conditions and equipment.

Carolyn Stager, president of the Oklahoma Municipal League, said the 2004 law placed an unfunded mandate on cities by forcing them to collectively bargain.

The municipal league supports HB 1593. It now goes to the full Senate.

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