Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Oregon Mandatory Meeting Law

Last week a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit aimed at blocking SB 519, the Oregon law the prohibits employers from requiring employees to attend meeting about, among other things, labor unions.  Click here to read the District of Oregon's opinion in Associated Oregon Industries v. Avakian

SB 519, passed by the Oregon legislature in 2009, prohibits employers from disciplining or threatening to discipline employees who refuse to attend mandatory or "captive audience" meetings on religious or political matters, including the employer's views on labor unions.  SB 519 also requires employers to post a notice informing employees of their rights under the law, which you can download here

Associated Oregon Industries brought a federal lawsuit on behalf of Oregon employers, arguing that the law is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and violates employers' First Amendment free speech rights.  The court did not reach the merits of that challenge; instead, the court held that the case was not ripe for review, and indicated it could not be challenged "until an employer holds a mandatory meeting, and then creates an employee's cause of action by disciplining an employee who refuses to attend." 

In our humble opinion (not to be taken as legal advice!), the portion of SB 519 that applies to union meeting will someday be successfully challenged on the basis that it is preempted by federal labor law.  This latest ruling, however, seems to indicate a court will be reluctant to rule on the bill until it is presented with a case involving employee discipline, and that may take an employer with enough interest in such meetings to be willing to run the risk and costs of litigation. 

Oregon Legislature Bans Mandatory Meetings

A new Oregon bill will prohibit employers from requiring employees to attend mandatory or "captive audience" meetings on, among other topics, labor unions.  Governor Ted Kulongoski is expected to sign the bill, which would them become law effective January 1, 2010.  Click here to read SB 519

SB 519 prohibits an employer from taking action against an employee who refuses to participate in communications concerning the employer’s opinions on religious or political matters. Religious or political matters is defined broadly and includes communications to employees about unionization.  An employee who suffers economic loss (through termination or suspension) as a result of the bill can sue his or her employer and recover treble damages.  The bill also allows employees to obtain an injunction prohibiting additional "captive audience" meetings. 

This law might not be long-lived:  the U.S. Supreme Court found a similar California law to be preempted by federal labor law.  Click here to read that opinion in Chamber of Commerce v. Brown.  Even if a court finds Oregon's statute to be similarly preempted (and we believe a court will), the law could still apply to employers that are not covered by federal labor law - namely, Oregon public and agricultural employers.  Also, the word from Salem is that the legislature will still revise the law to provide additional protections for religious employers (such as churches and some hospitals) who hold religious meetings, so keep an eye out for those changes in the next week or so.