Of all our rights under the U.S. Constitution, free speech holds a special place at the Rogue Desk. So for cynically claiming First Amendment rights in order to stifle employees' efforts to unionize, we're naming Associated Oregon Industries this week's Rogue.
The statewide business group filed a federal lawsuit Dec. 22 against state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and Portland-based Laborers' International Union of North America, Local 296.
The suit, which lists the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as another plaintiff, asks the court to set aside a new statewide law. That law prevents companies from holding mandatory meetings to share anti-union information.
The business groups' suit cites one unidentified company they claim is the target of "aggressive organizing activity" by the laborers union, "including trespassing, hand billing, displaying large inflatable animals," picketing, group meetings and "even threatening immigration raids."
Kenny Morgan, business manager for Local 296, tells WW the company in question is BrucePac, a meatpacker with plants in Silverton and Woodburn. The union has been trying to organize all 400 employees since last spring.
To stop the union, the lawsuit says management held mandatory meetings "to both counter union rhetoric and provide information to employees about the realities of a unionized workplace, including the requirement to pay dues and the possibility of being forced out on strike."
The trouble for BrucePac comes with Senate Bill 519, which Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed into law June 30. Effective Jan. 1, it prohibits disciplining employees for failing to attend mandatory meetings where the primary purpose is communicating bosses' political or religious opinions.
AOI is asking U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman to toss out the law, claiming it violates the First Amendment and the National Labor Relations Act. A hearing has not yet been set.
"The same arguments we make are ones the union would make if the state of Arizona ordered them to disclose their union dues," says Scott Oborne, an attorney for AOI. "It's unfortunate that the Oregon Legislature allowed this law to be passed."
We think Associated Oregon Industries should cut the legal games over forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings. That's not free speech, that's coercion.
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