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Labor leaders cry foul over bills on public-worker unions

Proposals take aim at organized labor

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PHOENIX – Daniel Schulte has spent 24 years as a sanitation and maintenance worker for the city of Peoria.

Being a member of a union representing public employees, he said, has provided benefits beyond negotiated pay, including safety rules that organized labor has advocated through the years.

“Having a union and a contract helps everyone,” he said. “You end up being more efficient.”

On Thursday, he was among dozens of people demonstrating at the State Capitol against four GOP bills they said aim to dismantle public–employee unions.

“The wages, benefits and standard of living will start to fall,” Schulte said.

Roman W. Ulman, Arizona executive director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which organized the rally, called the legislation part of a national effort against unions.

“Why should we not be able to belong to an organization, and why shouldn’t we be able to negotiate benefits and working conditions?” he said.

SB 1485, authored by Sen. Rick Murphy, R–Glendale, would bar the state and local governments from bargaining with or striking agreements with unions. The measure is more sweeping than a 2011 Wisconsin law against collective bargaining with public-employee unions because it would include law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Other bills would bar governments from paying public employees for engaging in union activities, deducting money for third parties from paychecks without an employee’s annual authorization and withholding or diverting public employees’ pay for union dues.

All four bills had cleared committee and were awaiting action by the full Senate.

Neither Murphy nor Sen. Andy Biggs, R–Gilbert, author of two of the measures, returned phone messages seeking comment on the protesters’ complaints.

Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, an independent watchdog group that promotes limited government and free enterprise, said collective bargaining with public-employee unions doesn’t offer accountability to taxpayers.

“Government union power needs to be changed,” said Dranias, who helped draft the bill on collective bargaining. “What we’re concerned about are laws that require secretive bargaining between government and union representatives.”

Because Arizona is a right–to–work state, no employee can be forced to join or remain in a union.

Angie Hernandez, a union representative for the Administrative, Supervisory, Professional & Technical Employees Association, handed out signs saying “Stop the assault on workers’ rights.”

“If all these bills pass by, we won’t be able to have our holiday time and our sick pay,” said Hernandez, a neighborhood preservation inspector for the city of Phoenix.

Though he’s retired now and worked as an electrician in the private sector, Peoria resident Dan Pollard said he joined the rally because he fears what would become of workers in a state without labor unions.

“If it goes back to how things were before unions, you could start working for 50 cents an hour again,” he said.

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Cale Ottens/Cronkite News Service

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, rallies the crowd outside the Capitol in favor of killing the four GOP bills targeting unions representing public employees.

The bills

SB 1484

  • Author: Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert
  • Key Provision: Prohibit public employers from deducting any third party payment from employees’ paychecks without annual written or electronic authorization.
  • Status: Awaiting action by full Senate.

SB 1485

  • Author: Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale
  • Key Provision: Prohibit a state agency or political subdivision from recognizing any union as a bargaining agent, engaging in collective bargaining with any union or meeting and conferring with any public employee union about an employment bargain.
  • Status: Awaiting action by full Senate.

SB 1486

  • Author: Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale
  • Key Provision: Prohibit public employers from compensating public employees or third parties for union activities.
  • Status: Awaiting action by full Senate.

SB 1487

  • Author: Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale
  • Key Provision: Prohibit the state and any county, municipality, school district or other political subdivision from withholding any portion of an employee’s wages to pay for labor organization dues.
  • Status: Awaiting action by full Senate.
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