In his article, “Unions Push Issues in State Capitals,” published in The Wall Street Journal, Kris Maher discusses organized labor’s attempt to effect labor law change in state legislatures while pursuing a similar goal nationally in Congress.
Mr. Maher focuses on the Worker Freedom Act passed by the Oregon Legislature and signed into law this past June, which is scheduled to take effect in January 2010. The Oregon law in effect would prohibit employers from holding mandatory meetings with employees for the purpose of discussing employees’ right to organize.
Not only is there a very strong argument that this law is pre-empted by federal labor law, but as J.L. Wilson, Vice President of Government Affairs for Associated Oregon Industries, is quoted in the article, “[i]t completely undermines employer free speech.” Associated Oregon Industries, with the assistance of Jackson Lewis LLP, plans on filing a lawsuit challenging the new law on those constitutional grounds. Attorneys at Jackson Lewis challenged a similar law passed in California based on the ground that it, too, unlawfully violated an employer’s right to free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agreed with our argument, and the law was struck down.
Mr. Maher correctly notes that while bills similar to the Oregon law also were proposed in Connecticut and Michigan, both of those failed to become law, making Oregon the first state to enact such a law.
The Oregon law and attempts in other states to pass similar bills are alarming. Patrick Semmens of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation stated that the Oregon law is “a step close toward card check.” Director of Legislative Affairs for the AFL-CIO, William Samuel stated, “While Congress is still debating the federal legislation, we think it’s important to move ahead in states where it’s possible to take action.”
State law initiatives by organized labor must not be overlooked despite the attention on EFCA.