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Union’s view: Voice of middle-class workers won’t be still

Fixing billion dollar budet deficits is difficult enough. It’s a whole lot harder when public officials are working on the political math of their re-election instead of on their duties to the electorate.

In Wisconsin, we are seeing a brazen attempt to use a budget crisis to hammer away at workers and their unions. But it’s not the only state in which newly elected governors have made political payback to their corporate CEO donors a top priority.

The overreaching proposal in Wisconsin is igniting a broader resistance to anti-union attacks occurring in other states like Ohio, Indiana and even Arizona. As nationwide protests in previous weeks have shown, Americans will not simply stand by as politicians take away the right of workers to bargain for a middle-class living.

Among all the states considering anti-union legislation, Wisconsin has become a focal point because of its strong unions and legacy of robust worker protections.

The state was the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a public employee union that has provided a consistent check on corporate political power.

For decades, AFSCME and other public sector unions fought to uphold the freedom of all Americans to collectively bargain for fair wages, quality benefits and safe workplaces.

The unions protect this freedom dearly for good reason. Stripping this right from nurses, teachers and firefighters would weaken the work force that is essential to the well-being and safety of our families and communities.

Moreover, when we erode wages and safety standards in one part of the economy, all workers stand to lose ground. The widespread public opposition to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal shows that most Americans understand that this is what is at stake.

The nationwide protests also demonstrate that there is little tolerance for partisan political attacks by elected officials when state budget crises demand that our leaders come together to find solutions.

Yet even in Arizona, where public employees are denied collective-bargaining rights, elected officials on the right persist in using the same political playbook as Governor Walker.

Anti-union measures like SB1365 and SCR1028 (which target paycheck deductions for political purposes) would effectively keep labor unions from speaking on behalf of workers on issues like the minimum wage and health care affordability. I’m appalled, but not surprised, that corporate CEOs behind these proposals would rather remove worker voices from political debate than have an honest discussion on the issues.

As we’ve shown in states from Wisconsin to Arizona, union members are willing to come to the negotiating table and make the tough sacrifices to help balance budgets—but we will not accept pay cuts only to support corporate tax breaks.

And we’re not going to let conservative politicians like Walker take away our right to say so.

— Rebekah Friend is the executive director and secretary/treasurer of the Arizona AFL-CIO.

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