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Municipal unions OK’d

By John Greiner Published: March 15, 2006
Reversing itself Tuesday, the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a municipal government collective bargaining act affecting Oklahoma's larger cities.

The opinion strikes down the court's own July 5 ruling that said the act that applies to cities with populations greater than 35,000 was unconstitutional.

Cities affected by Tuesday's ruling are Broken Arrow, Edmond, Enid, Lawton, Midwest City, Moore, Muskogee, Norman, Oklahoma City, Stillwater and Tulsa.

The law applies to nonuniformed municipal employees, including those working in city jobs such as sanitation, libraries and water departments.

While those on the winning side Tuesday praised the decision, a Stillwater city official said the ruling could be costly for cities affected by the opinion. The Supreme Court's ruling involved a case in which the city of Enid challenged the bargaining law.

An Oklahoma County judge sided with Enid and the case was appealed. Last July, the Supreme Court said the collective bargaining act passed by the 2004 Legislature was unconstitutional. In its 5-4 opinion Tuesday on a request for a rehearing, the court reversed its July opinion saying: "We hold that the act is a general law of statewide concern that contains a proper and legitimate classification of municipalities with a population greater than 35,000.

Justice Marian Opala disagreed. "If municipal workers' bargaining rights are a matter of state interest, any regulation of this arena ought to be extended to all municipalities, Opala wrote in his dissent. Justice James Winchester was the only justice to change his position from the July ruling. In July he voted with those who said the law was unconstitutional. Tuesday he voted just the opposite, siding with the court's majority. He could not be reached for comment.

Unions pleased

Sue Wycoff, who, with James R. Moore, represented the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in the lawsuit, said, "We're delighted, and we think the court is right.

Jimmy Curry, president of the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO, said his organization believed all along that it was constitutional to have the population threshold of greater than 35,000 in the law.

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