The Oregon Supreme Court has just ruled that a City Council or other government body can be punished for committing an unfair labor practice if one of its members criticizes the public employee unions to which the city’s employees belong.
In AFSCME Council 75 v. City of Lebanon, 360 Or 809 (2017) the Court held that the City could be sanctioned for an unfair labor practice if one member of the Council, in a letter to the editor of the local paper explicitly sent as a private citizen and not as a city council member, made any statement that “. . . city employees would have reasonably believed that she acted on behalf of the city in urging those employees to decertify the union.”
Elected public officials are supposedly responsible for management of the tax revenues received by the government entities they run. A significant portion of those revenues in Oregon are spent on the incomes and benefits of public employees who work or worked for state and local government entities. In fact, the relationship between government and government employees has become a significant and persistent issue of discussion. Many blame the burden of paying the wages and benefits of both past and present public employees for the projected revenue shortfall in the state and many local government budgets.
A public official’s thoughts concerning public employees’ unions would logically be an issue of great interest to the voting public. It would also seem as though the First Amendment prohibition against limiting speech would most aptly prevent a court from punishing the speech of elected public officials about issues of public importance. Apparently, the public employees who sit on the Oregon Supreme Court think differently.