Abolishing the office of state labor commissioner is an idea
worth examining regardless of the outcome of the election Tuesday.
One of the highlights of a bitter intra-party battle for the
Republican nomination for state labor commissioner between incumbent
Brenda Reneau Wynn and Rep. Tim Pope, R-Mustang, has been his
proposal to do away with the office entirely.
It is an interesting political gambit for a candidate to advocate
the abolition of an office he is seeking. Apparently the idea has
caught on among voters as he has gained in the polls.
If Pope loses in either the primary or general election, chances
are the idea will fade away. Reneau Wynn is opposed to it, and Rep.
Lloyd Fields, D-McAlester, who is seeking the Democratic nomination,
also is against it.
The Oklahoma Department of Labor, headed by a labor commissioner,
was created as an elective office by the original Oklahoma
Constitution. It was one of a long list of elected executive
offices, some of which have since been abolished.
While it is a constitutional agency, its duties are prescribed by
law. Art. 6 section 20 of the constitution simply states:
"A Department of Labor is hereby created to be under the control
of a commissioner of labor whose duties shall be prescribed by law."
It would pose no constitutional problem for the Legislature to
eliminate or transfer all or part of the duties. But it would take a
constitution amendment to abolish the office.
Pope's plan calls for dispersing labor department functions among
several other existing state agencies. The study was conducted by
him, Rep. Bill Graves, R-OKC, Rep. Ray Young, R-Yukon, and Judy
Monroe, a 25-year labor department employee.
Interestingly, the report was endorsed by a former chief of
staff, and two former deputy commissioners during Reneau Wynn's
It recommends putting asbestos inspections under the Department
of Environmental Quality. The Safety Standards division, which
inspects boilers, pressure vessels and hot water heaters, as well as
amusement rides and weld test facilities, goes to the Department of
It is worth noting boiler and pressure vessel inspections for
oilfield operations were transferred to the Oklahoma Corporation
Commission by the Legislature this year. This was done over the
bitter opposition of the current labor commissioner.
Mickey Thompson, executive vice president of the Oklahoma
Independent Petroleum Association, in the July issue of the
association's magazine said "the bill moved through the Legislature
with only token opposition until the labor commissioner began
lobbing grenades at the governor's office.
"The labor commissioner whined loud enough and long enough to
obfuscate the issue," Thompson said in the magazine.
According to Thompson, this caused the governor to veto the
measure, which was authored in the House by Fields. On a second
attempt, the language was put in another measure and the governor
was persuaded to sign it.
Another labor department function that would be transferred to
the health department is the public sector version of the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is an enforcement
division with authority to inspect all public agencies including
state, city, county, and political subdivisions.
The department's other OSHA functions would go to the career-
tech agency. Currently the department provides a free consultation
program to private employees. Its efforts are targeted mainly to
high-hazard industry with employees totaling 250 or less. It also
performs facility inspections for OSHA compliance. …