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Judge’s ruling on union law deals setback to Arizona

A federal judge Thursday refused to derail a challenge to a 2010 state constitutional amendment, dealing a setback to Arizona’s effort to require union elections by secret ballot before companies can be unionized.

The Arizona amendment limits how workers choose whether they want union representation. It was proposed by state legislators at the urging of business and conservative groups to pre-empt proposed federal legislation that would make it easier to get union representation of a company’s workers.

South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah have similar amendments.

The ruling is the latest in several cases in which Arizona is battling with the federal government over such issues as immigration and medical marijuana.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Martone rejected the state’s request to dismiss the National Labor Relations Board’s suit challenging the amendment on grounds that it is pre-empted by federal law. The amendment intrudes on a federal agency’s authority, Martone said.

His ruling doesn’t decide the case but it indicates that the federal board has strong grounds to press its challenge.

The federal legislation, which stalled in Congress last year, is dubbed “card check.” It would allow a majority of workers to form a union by signing cards — an alternative to having a representation vote.

The Republican-led Arizona Legislature put the measure on the state’s 2010 general election ballot at the urging of business and conservative groups, and voters approved it by a 3-to-2 margin.

Supporters said the amendment would help protect workers from union coercion and provide a favorable business climate for employers.

Labor leaders and Democratic legislators called the amendment an anti-union measure that would limit the rights of workers whose employers can hinder a fair representation vote.

Martone rejected the state’s arguments that the federal challenge was premature and lacked a legal foundation.

Just enactment of the Arizona’s measure is enough to allow the challenge to go forward and its provision allowing people to sue in state court to enforce the secret-ballot right undermines the federal board’s authority to ensure that federal labor laws are enforced uniformly nationwide, the judge said.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The NLRB said earlier this year that it also would sue to challenge South Dakota’s law but it has not followed through.

NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said the agency doesn’t have the resources to pursue four cases at the same time. She offered no explanation on why Arizona was chosen first.

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