Special Election for Right-to-Work Law Criticized

Article excerpt

Ross Williams, secretary-treasurer of the Oklahoma chapter of the AFL-CIO, on Tuesday suggested that supporters of a proposed right-to-work amendment should call their own statewide election on the issue, instead of letting Gov. George Nigh or the Oklahoma Legislature call it for them.

In his "State of the State" to the Legislature's opening joint session Tuesday, Nigh called for a special election by April to let Oklahomans vote on a proposed right-to-work amendment to the stateConstitution. Such a measure would ban compulsory union membership.

Talk of a right-to-work election dominated conversations at the state Capitol before and after the governor's speech.

"They should have to circulate initiative petitions and get the proper amount of signatures to call an election," Williams said of the right-to-work backers. "That's what the horse racing people did. That's what the liquor-by-the-drink people did."

State law says 188,351 signatures are needed on initiative petitions before a statewide special election can be called on a constitutional amendment.

Williams, who represents 95,000 AFL-CIO members statewide, didn't mince words on the proposed right-to-work election:

"We don't want an election, period."

James Marshall, executive director of the Oklahoma Freedom to Work Committee, and state Rep. Mike Fair, R-Oklahoma City, have said repeatedly that they prefer to see a right-to-work amendment on a general election ballot, when the turnout would be greatest.

"Mr. Williams recognizes the political disadvantage the initiative petition route would place the supporters of right to work," Marshall said Tuesday. "I cite the Missouri experience in 1978, when the circulators of right-to-work petitions were abused.

"I can only surmise," Marshall said, "that the unions would prefer to defeat right to work by intimidation. It's much more difficult for them to intimidate legislators than right-to-work supporters."

In 1978, Missouri voters defeated a right-to-work measure by a margin of 63 percent against the proposal, and 37 percent in favor.

"That was ironic," Marshall said, "when a public opinion poll by Matt Reese showed 60 percent favored right to work."

Williams, the AFL-CIO official, couldn't hide the sarcasm in his voice when he was asked what he thought of Nigh's speech.

"How can we 'think positive' for Oklahoma," Williams asked, citing Nigh's positive-thinking theme, "when we put such a divisive issue like right to work on the ballot?"

Nigh and legislative leaders have agreed to support a resolution by Sen. Roy Boatner, D-Calera, to refer the right-to-work amendment to a special election. …