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Last-Minute Lawsuit Could Delay OR’s Worker Freedom Law

December 24, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. - On Dec. 22, a lawsuit was filed in an attempt to prevent Oregon's Worker Freedom Act from going into effect on January 1, 2010. The law allows employees to opt out of attending workplace meetings when their personal views about the topic differ from management, without being disciplined or fired for it.

The law was passed in response to some workers' complaints that they had been disciplined or fired for not seeing eye to eye with their supervisors about such touchy topics as unions or religion. The lawsuit is being brought by groups that represent employers, Associated Oregon Industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tom Chamberlain, who heads the Oregon AFL-CIO, says the message the plaintiffs are sending is clear.

"They have the power - they want to keep the power. They want to be able to have their one-on-one meetings. They want to be unfettered on how they address things such as politics, religion and union organizing."

The lawsuit alleges that the Worker Freedom Act restricts business owners' rights to free speech and is in violation of federal law.

Chamberlain says it's part of a larger national effort to make it more difficult for workers to unionize. He says the new law does not prevent employers from saying whatever they want to their workers. Rather, it protects workers from being told how to vote or what to think about a controversial issue.

"Poll after poll after poll has proven that Oregonians feel very strongly that employers should not have the right to have mandated meetings on these issues. This reflects on two business organizations that are doing everything they can to maintain the status quo."

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Defendants are the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Commissioner Brad Avakian and Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 296, in Portland.

The Worker Freedom Act was SB 519 in the 2009 Legislature.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR