Editorial: Don’t twist ballot measure description

Published Apr 17, 2013 at 05:00AM

Writing the 15-word ballot descriptions for measures on the Oregon ballot is not rocket science.

But just look at what Oregon’s attorney general’s office dreamed up.

Here’s a caption for a measure that may appear on the ballot next year: “Prohibits requiring union membership as condition of public employment; prohibits requiring ‘fair share’ fee payments.”

Can you tell what this measure would do?

Somewhat. But the phrasing in the second part sure sounds like the measure would be launching an attack on what’s fair. And that’s not fair to the ballot measure.

Next year, there is indeed likely to be a ballot measure that would prohibit public-employee unions from requiring workers to join the union or pay union fees.

In other words, a worker getting a state job, or a job at a city or a school district would not be required to join a union as a condition of employment and could not be required to pay the union a fee.

It’s a big deal for union supporters, who oppose it. It’s a big deal for others who believe people should not be required to join a union or pay union fees to get a job.

What’s important is getting the ballot description right. And as The Oregonian reported, neither side is happy with the way the attorney general’s office wrote that one.

Jill Gibson Odell, the Washington County attorney and chief sponsor of the measure, wants either:

“Prohibits requiring public employees to either join union or pay fees as condition of employment” or “Prohibits requiring union membership or payment-in-lieu-of-dues as condition of employment.”

The first of those strikes us as far better than what the state crafted.

We could come up with far worse, but Margaret Olney, a Portland lawyer representing the president and chief lobbyist for the Oregon Education Association, has already done that.

“Allows public employees to receive union representation without paying costs; creates new ‘unfair labor practices.’ ”

That is about as loaded as you can get.

The attorney general’s office should let both sides make their arguments on this measure without directing voters toward a decision in the decription.