GOP Lawmaker Targets Public Employee Unions With Bills

Originally posted Mar 11, 2013

Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Only one in 20 Arizonans is a member of a union, but that hasn’t stopped several state lawmakers from pushing bills aimed at restricting organized labor.

Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, author of three bills that have won committee approval, wants to rein in unions representing public employees such as police officers, firefighters and teachers, groups he says take advantage of taxpayers.

“It’s incumbent on us if we want to see this change that we need to move the bills through the Senate, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.

Two of Murphy’s bills would restrict the ability of public employee union members to strike and to be paid for time spent on union activities. The other would require public employees represented by unions to sign off each year on having dues deducted from paychecks.

The bills won committee approval and were awaiting action by the full Senate.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 125,000 Arizona workers, 5.1 percent of the state’s workforce, belonged to unions in 2012. Union members made up 11.3 percent of workers nationwide.

In recent years, Republican lawmakers have successfully pushed for laws to restrict unions, including one to prevent public employees from soliciting political contributions. In 2010, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure requiring secret ballots when workers decide whether to unionize.

Dave Mendoza, a political representative for the Arizona chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the latest bills continue a trend of legislators not respecting public employees.

“Just because you’re a senator or a state representative or a governor does not mean you know everything about every job,” he said.

SB 1348 would prohibit public employers from paying employees for time they spend on union activities. Murphy, the author, called the practice a waste of taxpayer money, adding that Phoenix alone spends the equivalent of 72 full-time employee salaries each year on so-called release time.

However, Don Isaacson, who spoke on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police before the Senate Government and Environment Committee, said release time is often used by police to support fellow officers in court or during traumatic times such as searches.

“I know it’s directed at extreme activities, rallies and the like, but it goes far beyond that,” Isaacson said. “I’m concerned that the application of this bill prevents an association member from helping another member.”

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, supported each of Murphy’s bills before the Government and Environment Committee, which she chairs. As for release time, she said Arizonans shouldn’t be subsidizing any union activities by public employees.

“If you’re being paid for a job, that’s the job you should be doing,” she said. “If you want to do something else on your free time, you shouldn’t get taxpayer money for it.”

SB 1349 would prevent paycheck deductions for union dues or any other third party unless a public employee provides annual written or electronic consent.

It is nearly identical to two other Senate bills proposed this session: SB 1142, authored by Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, and SB 1182, authored by Griffin. Pierce’s bill was awaiting action by the full Senate, while Griffin’s failed on the floor.

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said putting controls on paycheck deductions would protect both public employees and their employers.

“For me, having to document on an annual basis what’s coming out of my paycheck is a very good audit process,” he said. “We’re missing the boat here when we pull all of these out and not use it as an audit trail to protect the employer and the employee.”

SB 1350, also authored by Murphy, would prevent those who provide contract labor to the state or political subdivisions from going on strike.

Murphy said the issue caught his attention last year when bus drivers for firms that have contracts with Valley Metro went on a five-day strike. Light rail operators later appeared ready to strike before a union and the firm employing the drivers agreed to binding arbitration.

“With regard to bus services, low-income folks are the predominant user of that service and they really don’t have a lot of other options,” Murphy said in committee. “And when we hold those guys hostage to pay increases that may not really be market-driven, we’re going to end up jacking up either the rate that is charged to those folks or the taxpayer subsidy that pays for that service.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Andy Tobin declined to allow floor votes for two Republican bills aimed at unions. Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, proposed requiring local governments to vote on whether to deduct union dues, while Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, proposed requiring public employee unions to follow the state’s open meeting laws.

Tobin has said he wouldn’t block bills forwarded by the Senate.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who joined Sens. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, and Sen. Jack Jackson Jr., D-Window Rock, in opposing Murphy’s bills in committee, said he is “profoundly sick and tired” of what he called legislative attacks on public employees.

“Perhaps if we stop attacking them, they won’t have to spend their release time coming down here to defend themselves from us,” Farley said.

Bills on unions:

SB 1142
• Author: Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott
• Status: Passed Senate Rules Committee.
• Provisions: Beginning Oct. 1, all Arizona public employers would be prohibited from deducting any third-party payments from an employee’s paycheck unless the employee provides express written or electronic authorization annually.

SB 1348
• Author: Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria
• Status: Passed Senate Rules Committee.
• Provisions: Would prohibit public employers from paying a public employee for any union activity, although employees would still able to receive compensated leave for personal reasons.

SB 1349
• Author: Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria
• Status: Passed Senate Rules Committee.
• Provisions: Beginning Oct. 1, public employers would be prohibited from deducting any payments to a third party from an employee’s paycheck unless the employee provides annual written or electronic permission.

SB 1350
• Author: Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria
• Status: Passed Senate Rules Committee.
• Provisions: Would prohibit those providing contracted labor or services to the state or a political subdivision, such as a city or town, from striking or stopping work in any other way.