Tulsa Decision Sends Right-to-Work to State Supreme Court

Wed July 23, 2003 - National Edition

TULSA, Okla. (AP) A Tulsa County judge upheld the state’s right-to-work law July 22 over his own objections so the Oklahoma Supreme Court could decide the issue.

”A case like this needs to be decided by the nine members of the state Supreme Court,’ District Judge David L. Peterson said. ”I’m doing the best I can being just a single person.’

Peterson said he agreed with the Eastern Oklahoma Building & Construction Trades Council that the law unfairly requires labor unions to represent workers that don’t pay dues.

But the judge said that concern doesn’t rise to the legal threshold for overturning the constitutional amendment, passed overwhelmingly by voters in September 2001.

”A win is a win,’ said Thomas Birmingham, attorney for defendant Ralph W. Pitts, an electrical contractor doing business as Your Electric Service.

Attorneys for the labor union said they would quickly appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which already is considering the law’s constitutionality as part of a separate federal lawsuit.

”It doesn’t bother me that the judge ruled the way he did, given that he was agreeing with what the unions are saying,’ union attorney James Thomas said.

”I agree with the court. That’s where the case ought to be decided, before the Supreme Court,’ said James, also a law professor at the University of Tulsa.

The constitutional right-to-work amendment outlaws so-called security clauses in union contracts that require workers to pay union dues. Oklahoma is the 22nd state to adopt such a law.

The trades council sued Pitts on May 13, claiming the law violates its due process rights by requiring it to represent workers that don’t pay dues. The union also argues the law unjustly singles out labor unions and that the question put to voters dealt with too many issues.

Frank Wolfe, attorney for Stephen Weese, a worker at Oklahoma Fixture Co. who has intervened in the case, argued that unions represent workers voluntarily.

”Unions know full and well going into an election for representation that they may have to rely on their good works to convince workers to pay for their services,’ Wolfe said during a hearing that preceded the ruling.

Weese is represented by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 943, but is not a member of the union. His inclusion was sought by Springfield, VA.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

”This is a win for the workers of Oklahoma,’ said foundation spokesman Dan Cronin. ”We’re certainly happy to win here, and we expect to win again before the Supreme Court.’

U.S. District Judge Frank Seay, ruling in the earlier lawsuit, found that parts of the right-to-work amendment violated federal law. He declined to declare the state law unconstitutional, however.

That finding was appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has asked the state Supreme Court to give its opinion on the matter.