In a rare development, the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday
reversed itself, upholding a state law that authorizes collective
bargaining for municipal employees in cities with populations
greater than 35,000.
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, the majority wrote in a per
curiam opinion not attributed to a specific justice.
Challenged by several cities, including Enid, Broken Arrow and
Lawton among others, the 2004 law affects only 11 municipalities.
An official with the Oklahoma Municipal League, which filed a
friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said member cities have been
notified that they must comply with the law immediately.
Tuesday's decision involved the city of Enid, which had filed a
legal action against the state Public Employees Relations Board and
the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The state board processes city employees' applications for
collective bargaining under the act. AFSCME is a labor organization
that represents municipal workers. AFSCME had filed an application
with the board to represent Enid city employees.
The classification remains fluid, the majority wrote. When
municipalities reach the requisite number of residents, the act
Mark Stodghill, president of Tulsa AFSCME Local 1180, said he is
happy with the court's new ruling.
It's going to have a positive effect on city government and the
employees' rights, said Stodghill. I'm very pleased that the
employees will have the choice now, for municipal governments, to be
able to join a union if they so desire, in a democratic process that
allows them to have their voice heard.
Last July, by a 5-4 vote, the court held the Oklahoma Municipal
Employee Collective Bargaining Act to be an unconstitutional special
law due to the population requirement. At the time, the majority
said laws regulating city affairs must be general statutes affecting
all municipalities equally. A district court had earlier found the
35,000 population figure to be arbitrary and held the act to be a
special law in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.
Tuesday's ruling was also 5-4, with Justice James Winchester
siding with the new majority. Winchester had joined in the previous
opinion that struck down the law.
The majority opinion states that the act grants the same
privileges to all municipalities of the same class and manifests
uniform application to all class members.
The court said such acts need not affect every city in the state,
but must apply equally to all classes similarly situated, and apply
to like conditions and subjects.
The court cited evidence from experts outlining reasons why
collective bargaining works better for larger cities than for
smaller municipalities, including differences in intricacy of
management and personnel structures, numbers of employees, and
State Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, principal author of the
bargaining law, said he is pleased with the ruling. …