In almost staccato fashion, Senate and House committees on Aug. 9 approved new legislation aimed at guaranteeing people’s right to a secret ballot in union elections.
Gov. Jan Brewer called the ninth special session this term to fix the anti-union ballot measure, which the courts earlier ruled unconstitutional.
The special session started shortly after 3 p.m. and quickly passed committee hearings later in the day, strongly indicating legislative leaders plan to wrap up the three-day special session and go back to, among other things, the campaign trail.
The courts had ruled that a proposal meant to guarantee secret-ballot votes for public and union elections violated the state Constitution’s requirement that ballot measures be limited to a single subject.
The Republican-led Legislature will fix the wording by dropping the part about public office elections. It is intended to be on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The House Commerce Committee passed HCR2001 by a 5-2 party-line vote, while identical legislation, SCR1001, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 4-3 vote, also along party lines.
Both chambers’ Rules committees also tackled the legislation. Finally, lawmakers called it a day after meeting in caucus, the last stop before the referral gets debated on the floor.
The two chambers are scheduled to deliberate on the legislation on Aug. 10, and vote to pass it on Aug. 11.
The proposal is meant to be a preemptive strike against possible federal legislation that would make it easier for organizers to form unions.
The federal legislation, also known as the “card-check” bill, would require employers to recognize a union if majority of workers signed a petition card saying they wanted to form one.
Currently, employers are not bound to recognize a card-check petition and can require a vote by secret ballot.
Those in favor of the legislation say a secret ballot shields employees from intimidation by unions, while supporters of card-check say a secret ballot election adds a high hurdle for organizing unions.
House Democrats called the special session a waste of time and resources.
Rep. Chad Campbell said there are more important matters that lawmakers should focus on, such as last month’s escape of three inmates from an Arizona prison.
Campbell said he wants Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan down at the Legislature so he can grill him about what happened and why.
Senate Assistant Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said the legislation doesn’t make sense because any federal law, including card-check, will supersede state law.
“My colleagues here keep thinking that Arizona is our own little country, that we can pass laws that don’t take into account what federal law says,” Rios said.
Campbell raised the same point in the House: “Will this matter? Doesn’t federal law preempt anything we do? I feel like this is just a set-up for litigation.”
Clint Bolick, director of litigation at the Goldwater Institute, testified before a House committee that the secret ballot law would most likely end up in court, but said he believes it would withstand a challenge. He said the federal National Labor Relations Act does not apply to state and local government workers, or to agricultural workers.
Bolick also said that despite Congress’ lack of progress on card check legislation, it is important to pass the secret ballot measure because President Obama may attempt to push card check provisions through via administrative rules changes.
“There is no question that there will be litigation over this measure, but there is also no question that it will have an effect,” Bolick said.
The proposed legislation says: “The right to vote by secret ballot for employee representation is fundamental and shall be guaranteed where local, state or federal law permits or requires elections, designations or authorizations for employee representation.”
Some union representatives fear the legislation would have unintended consequences.
The fear can be boiled down to this: The language could be interpreted to mean that it creates a right to an election to form a union. And this could happen at the time when a new contract between a union and an employer is being negotiated.
“A member could say, ‘You know, it says that I have a right that is guaranteed to me by statute… I never voted. You know what, I want one’,” said Levi Bolton of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
Legislative staff, however, said the law doesn’t create a right to an election; it creates a right to a secret ballot if an election is required or permitted for employee representation.
That the Legislature has the votes to pass the referral guaranteeing the right to a secret ballot to form unions was never in doubt. But just in case, groups opposed to the federal card-check legislation sent out statements Aug. 9 reminding policymakers why preempting it is important.
“Big Labor will do anything to end the secret ballot in employee elections, knowing intimidation works where their arguments for unionism doesn’t,” said Save Our Secret Ballot Arizona Chairman Roy Miller “Countless struggling businesses simply will not stay in business if the unions have greater power of intimidation in their shops, restaurants and manufacturing facilities.”
Farrell Quinlan, lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, also sent out a news release saying the group’s poll showed overwhelming support (83 percent) for the revised proposal among small businesses in Arizona.
Quinlan’s group had lobbied hard for the special session to happen.
“Congressional efforts like ‘card check’ are an assault on free enterprise with the potential to permanently cripple Arizona’s economy,” he said.
Capitol Times writer Jeremy Duda contributed to this report