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Business Groups File Lawsuit Seeking To Block SB 519, Known As The Employer "Gag Law"

December 28, 2009


On December 22, 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Associated Oregon Industries filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block Oregon SB 519 from taking effect on January 1, 2010. As we reported in our July 24, 2009 Bullard Alert, SB 519 (known to its supporters as the Workers Freedom Act and to its critics as the Employer Gag Bill) would prevent employers from holding mandatory meetings to discuss the employer’s views on religious or political issues, including unionization.

In the lawsuit, the Chamber and AOI seek a declaratory judgment that SB 519 violates their constitutional right of free speech and that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. They also seek to an order barring Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian from taking any action to enforce SB 519.

On the merits, the lawsuit asserts that SB 519 denies employers their right to free speech under the First Amendment. The lawsuit also asserts that the NLRA guarantees an employer’s right to communicate with employees, particularly to share the employer’s views on unions generally or about a specific union. Both the United States Supreme Court and the National Labor Relations Board have consistently cited the need for nationally uniform labor law and have upheld the rights of employers to conduct mandatory meetings with employees.

Employers should keep in mind that unless the federal court takes swift action this week, SB 519 will become law on Friday, January 1, 2010. Employers should therefore avoid taking any adverse employment action against employees who opt not to attend mandatory or “captive audience” meetings after the first of the year.

Bullard Law will continue to monitor the challenge to SB 519, as well as other topics of importance to employers facing union organizing. Please also feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns about employer’s rights of free speech and any other labor, employment or benefits issues.

- Sarah M. Petersen