Oklahoma Senate approves collective bargaining repeal

Oklahoma House Bill 1593 repeals a 2004 law that requires cities with more than 35,000 residents to grant collective bargaining rights to nonuniformed city employees.
BY JOHN ESTUS jestus@opubco.com Modified: April 19, 2011 at 9:15 pm •  Published: April 19, 2011
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It applies mostly to city road, sanitation and utility workers in the 12 cities in Oklahoma with more than 35,000 residents.

Some city officials have said they will continue to bargain with workers, regardless of whether the bill becomes law, while others have called the existing law flawed.

Four cities — including Oklahoma City and Tulsa — were already bargaining with nonuniformed employees before the law went into effect.

Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch said his city has “a good working relationship” with its nonuniformed employee union.

“I don't foresee this legislation changing that,” Couch said.

But critics fear other cities will walk away from the bargaining table after the current year's work contract expires, leaving workers without many of the rights they have today.

“I feel like it's a sad day for Oklahoma,” said Jimmy Curry, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Curry said some cities the law applies to previously refused to bargain with or listen to workers.

“That's why the law was written and passed,” he said.

All Senate Democrats and three Senate Republicans voted against HB 1593.

One of those Republicans, Sen. Ralph Shortey, said the voice of city workers would be silenced without collective bargaining.

“Give them a voice, for God's sake,” said Shortey, R-Oklahoma City.

Shortey voted for the bill in a Senate committee last month. He claimed Tuesday he “had no idea what was going on” during the committee vote.