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Action Alert                                 June 9, 2009 

  From Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett:

Yesterday the Senate passed Senate Bill 519-A by a vote of 16-14. This bill, referred to as the “Workplace Privacy Act” by its proponents, prohibits an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee who declines to attend meeting or participate in communication concerning the employer's opinion about religious or political matters.

            Simply put, this bill is an arbitrary obstruction of the rights to free speech for only one group of Oregonians. SB 519-A prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to attend a meeting during work hours if the topic of conversation is related to religion, politics, or even unionization. However, this bill, which was introduced at the request of Oregon AFL-CIO and sponsored by Democrat Legislators, does not prohibit union representatives from contacting an employee to discuss politics or unionization. Employers should have the right to discuss with employees what the process and affects of unionization entails for their business operations. Federal law already regulates this interaction between employers and employees, as well as others. In fact, it is possible that the National Labor Relations Act preempts SB 519-A, making it unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld in multiple rulings that labor law is the jurisdiction of Congress. Furthermore, this bill is likely to be considered a free speech violation under Article I, Section 8 of our state constitution.

            That is only the beginning of the concerns that this bill raises. It further allows an aggrieved employee to bring civil action against an employer for the perception of offenses created by SB 519-A. Current federal law already protects employees from unlawful employer practices by allowing for reinstatement of the employee’s position and back pay to which the employee would have otherwise been eligible if the offense had not occurred. SB 519-A creates unreasonable and punitive penalties to employers that are far in excess of what federal law allows. It would require employers to pay treble damages–triple the amount of the actual damages to be awarded to a prevailing plaintiff–and “all appropriate relief” to make the employee whole. This bill, however, does not extend reciprocal protections fo r an employer if the employer prevails.

            With all the concerns that this bill creates we must ask ourselves, what is the particular problem that SB 519-A is attempting to solve? The fact is that there has not been sufficient evidence indicating that Oregon is in need of such dramatic limitations to the free speech of employers. In fact, should SB 519-A be signed into law, Oregon would be the first state to enact such policy. Perhaps our state unemployment rates would not be the second highest in the nation if the Legislature stopped working so hard to discourage positive employer/employee relations and hamper the operations of Oregon’s businesses. With the current state of our economy, now is certainly not the time to place further regulation on Oregon’s businesses when federal law already protects employees from any coercive actions of employers.

            This bill is now on its way to the House where it will need to be heard by the House Rules committee before going to the House floor for a final vote. If you have concerns over this bill you should be sure to contact House leadership and the members of the House Rules committee. The appropriate contact information has been included below in case you are interested in doing so.

House Democrat Leadership:

Speaker of the House Dave Hunt, 503-986-1200, rep.davehunt@state.or.us 
House Majority Leader Mary Nolan, 503-986-1440, rep.marynolan@state.or.us

House Rules Committee members:

Chair Arnie Roblan, 503-986-1409, rep.arnieroblan@state.or.us
Vice-Chair Vicki Berger, 503-986-1420, rep.vickiberger@state.or.us
Vice-Chair Chris Edwards, 503-986-1414, rep.chrisedwards@state.or.us
Bill Garrard, 503-986-1456, rep.billgarrard@state.or.us       
Sara Gelser, 503-986-1416, rep.saragelser@state.or.us
Bob Jenson, 503-986-1458, rep.bobjenson@state.or.us
Mary Nolan, 503-986-1436, rep.marynolan@state.or.us
Tobias Read, 503-986-1427, rep.tobiasread@state.or.us

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              Page Updated: Sunday June 14, 2009 03:43 AM  Pacific

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