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Expect anti-union turmoil to intensify

The turmoil over the slew of measures introduced last week to dismantle public-sector unions in Arizona was fierce, but it was also limited to the legislative committee that heard the bills.

That’s likely because legislation was introduced and heard so quickly that groups who would normally be opposed to such measures were largely caught flat-footed.

Expect that to change this week, especially if the measures get scheduled for a debate by the full Senate.

One union leader said there is an organized campaign behind the scenes to raise awareness about the measures, which are designed to fundamentally weaken public-sector unions in Arizona by, among other things, restricting their abilities to negotiate employment terms and conditions.

The Arizona president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Sheri Van Horsen, said lawmakers could see active gatherings as soon as today, when those bills are scheduled to be heard in the Senate Rules Committee.

“My understanding is that there will be turnout. There will be a coordinated effort for turnout,” Van Horsen said. “The public employees are saying ‘enough already.’”

As of Friday afternoon, the only organized group to reserve the lawn was the Arizona Students Association. But that doesn’t mean union employees won’t show up.

The bills were introduced Jan. 30 and two days later, the Senate Committee on Government Reform debated and passed them.

There is still ample time to amend the bills, and it appears that some key senators are at least open to softening them.

But if they move forward, key union representatives have issued warnings to lawmakers, reminding them that this is an election year, and they have the means to fight back.

“I certainly don’t want to give away strategy about how we are going to defend ourselves at this point,” said Tim Hill, president of Professional Firefighters of Arizona. “But members pay dues and they expect certain results for that. So we’ll do what we need to do to defend the rights of our membership.”

The head of the Arizona AFL-CIO put it more directly to my colleague, Luige del Puerto, last week: “There’s no option off the table as far as targeting politically,” said the group’s executive director, Rebekah Friend.

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