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Union dues ban advances, but other bills appear to stall

Phoenix resident Jay Baker and his 4-year-old son Henry Baker protest bills aimed at weakening public sector unions on the Capitol lawn Feb. 9. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A proposal to outlaw automatic salary deductions for public union dues – unless workers expressly authorize them annually – survived a vigorous Senate debate on Thursday.

The Senate later passed the measure, which is championed by Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, by a vote of 19-11.

It’s headed for the House for further action.

But other measures that would fundamentally weaken public unions in Arizona have yet to be calendared for a debate.

Their sponsor, however, flatly rejected the notion that the bills have stalled.

Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, said he simply hadn’t had the opportunity to work on them.

“This was hell week for committees and bills and I’m on five (committees) so I haven’t had any time… to meet with anybody. I haven’t had time to work on amendments. I haven’t had time to do anything,” he said.

Murphy was referring to the deadline for Senate committees to hear Senate bills.

He said he anticipates the bills will start moving again within the next two weeks.

But others speculate that Murphy’s bills don’t have the support to get out of the Senate.

They include legislation to eliminate public unions’ ability to collectively bargain and to ban outright paycheck deductions for union dues.

Of the slew of anti-union bills, these are the most threatening to public unions.

Murphy’s third bill, which would deny compensation to public employees while they’re doing union work, was on the debate calendar, but it was pulled out at the last minute.

Sometimes, proposals that aren’t calendared for debate don’t have the support to pass.

But it could also mean their authors are working on changes to accommodate suggestions or to court more support.

“I don’t think we have the votes,” one Senate source who is familiar with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering over the proposals told the ~Arizona Capitol Times~.

It’s too early to tell whether the other proposals would ultimately get the Senate’s approval.

Murphy can bring his proposals to the floor for a debate at any point — although he would be risking defeat if he couldn’t secure sufficient backing for his proposals first.

The slew of anti-union proposals has aroused much consternation among public union officials, some of whom warned that Republicans are courting a political firestorm in an election year.

So far, public unions have avoided a direct and forceful confrontation with the bills’ supporters, preferring to instead ramp up their lobbying efforts to halt the bills’ advance.

The only bill that has so far advanced is Biggs’ SB1484, which requires an annual opt-in by workers to continue automatic salary deductions for union dues.

Mike Colletto, a lobbyist for the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, predicted the result hours before the debate.

“I’m not so sure about the others,” said Colletto, who has been talking to lawmakers and trying to press the unions’ case that the ability to meet and confer with local governments is a tool that helps both management and labor.

The passage of Biggs’s bill potentially complicates the chances of Murphy’s SB1487, which would ban outright automatic deductions for union dues.

Some senators who agreed to support Biggs’ proposal, which is more permissive, may not be inclined to back a bill that contains an absolute prohibition.

Senators also face the technical dilemma of passing two bills with competing provisions.

The animus surrounding the anti-union proposals was palpable on the Senate floor on Feb. 16, when Biggs’ paycheck-deduction prohibition was approved during debate.

Critics said they trust public servants, such police officers and firefighters, with their lives and they also should trust their judgment when it comes to their choice to join unions.

Critics also said a fiscal note prepared by legislative budget analysts showed the bill, SB1484, would cost the city of Phoenix about $300,000 in one-time spending and an annual cost of $85,000.

But supporters were dismissive of the fiscal note.

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Democrat from Phoenix, said it is the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, that is going after public unions.

“It’s busting employees’ rights to be represented,” Gallardo said, adding the bill makes it more difficult for employees to spend their hard-earned money the way they want to.

But Senate Majority Whip Frank Antenori defended the measure and said it “levels” the playing field.

Antenori was referring to arguments by critics of unions who believe unions have accumulated considerable clout over public officials who enact policies favoring them.

He added that if unions are doing an exemplary job representing their members, then getting them to affirm their automatic union deductions shouldn’t be an issue.

Critics of unions often described a conflict of interest when public-sector unions negotiate over wages and benefits with the same politicians they helped to get elected.

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