Oregon Steps on the Toes of the Federal Government
Posted on Aug 15, 2009 on Labor Management Issues by
Lately, state governments have begun to legislate on labor issues specifically reserved for the federal government. The question is, will this stop?
Recently, Oregon’s legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of a pro-labor bill. The bill prohibits employers from disciplining workers who opt out of employer-sponsored meetings aimed at communicating the employer’s position on religious and political matters, including anti-union meetings. While the law contains certain exceptions for religious and political organizations, most employers can no longer require employees to attend meetings regarding their decision to join, not to join, support or not support a labor organization. The bill allows employees to bring a civil action to enforce the law, and allows courts to award injunctive relief, reinstatement, and back pay, plus treble damages and attorney fees.
While many wonder whether this unique law will spread (Oregon is the only state with such a law) the more important question is: are these laws preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)? Why have states been legislating on issues strictly governed by federal law? Section 8(c) of the NLRA allows employers to express their views on unions, in mandatory group meetings of employees as well as through other mechanisms, as long as the employer does not threaten employees or promise them benefits. The Oregon bill inhibits such rights and imposes unreasonable penalties on employers. In the past, other state laws infringing on federally protected rights under the NLRA have been struck down. We expect the Oregon bill will be challenged in court and will advise you of the result.
Meanwhile, employers should be wary of possible similar pending legislation in their state. Hopefully it will be repeated that states have no right to pass such legislation. Regardless of this issue, it is important that employers remain diligent in training their managers and supervisors on how to maintain a union free environment. Union election win rates remain well over 60%. Don’t let your company be the next victim. Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on union-related matters and provides union-free training. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.965.0560.