Oregon’s Worker Freedom Act survives court challenge

Oregon’s Worker Freedom Act has survived its first court challenge. In a May 6 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman dismissed a lawsuit by two business groups that wanted the union-authored state law struck down.

The Worker Freedom Act, which took effect, Jan. 1, forbids Oregon employers from firing or otherwise disciplining workers for refusing to attend or participate in workplace anti-union meetings, or meetings held to express an employer’s religious or political views if those aren’t work-related. If an employer holds such a mandatory meeting and disciplines a non-complying worker, the worker can sue and win reinstatement, triple damages and attorneys fees. Basically, employers can hold the meetings; they just can’t force workers to attend.

But Associated Oregon Industries (AOI) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued in their lawsuit that the Worker Freedom Act would violate employers’ freedom of speech, and would run afoul of the legal precedent that the National Labor Relations Act, a federal law, pre-empts states laws that cover the same ground.

Mosman didn’t rule on those questions. Instead, he dismissed the suit because the business groups failed to show that their members were harmed by the defendants they named in the suit — Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and Portland-headquartered Laborers Local 296.

AOI and the Chamber argued that their business members, including Silverton-based cooked meat processor BrucePac, suffered harm because they had to forego mandatory anti-union meetings — for fear that Avakian would enforce the law against them and that Local 296 would encourage disciplined workers to sue.

But Avakian declared that he had no authority or intention to enforce the law, which spells out that it’s meant to be enforced by private lawsuit. And, Mosman wrote, “until an employer holds a mandatory meeting, and then … [disciplines] an employee who refuses to attend, the Laborers Union cannot ‘encourage’ an employee to sue.”

The Worker Freedom Act, the first state law of its kind, continues to be in force.

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