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Fight continues against anti-union bills

Roman Ulman, an Arizona chapter president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, railed against bills aimed at diminishing public union bargaining rights in front of the state Capitol Feb. 9. Ulman spoke before a small group of union supporters. Union leaders, including Ulman's group, are for now not choosing to organize large-scale protests at the state Capitol. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Unions are stepping up the pressure on lawmakers as they seek the defeat of a slew of bills that would fundamentally weaken public unions in Arizona.

Within the last month, the AFL-CIO has organized two public hearings to stress that the proposals constitute an attack on public servants like firefighters, teachers and policemen.

The forums took place even as union representatives have ramped up their lobbying to halt the measures’ advance.

So far, the lobbying efforts appear to be working.

Of four anti-union proposals that were approved by a committee, only the legislation that deals with automatic paycheck deduction for union dues has received the Senate’s approval.

That bill prohibits automatic deductions unless employees expressly authorize them each year.

But the bill to eliminate the ability of public unions to negotiate over pay, benefits and other issues has yet to be scheduled for debate. Of the proposals, this is considered to be the biggest threat to public unions.

The forum in Phoenix on Friday attracted more than a hundred people. A similar public hearing took place in Tucson a week earlier.

As expected, many were extremely upset at the anti-union measures.

Some passionately argued that the proposals are meant to politically silence unions here.

“This is an issue of taking power from people that have the courage to speak up,” said Doug Hart, president of the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans.

Many call for a united front in fighting back.

Hart, for example, invoked prominent protestant Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who was famous for his “First They Came” quotation about the Nazis in World War II.

“This is the time we’ve got to start fighting together, brothers and sisters, because the attack is on,” said Randy Parraz, a union activist.

“They’re trying to slit the throat of labor in Arizona,” he added.

Democratic lawmakers, who moderated the forum, also took several swipes at the Goldwater Institute, which drafted some of the proposal targeting public unions, including the legislation to eliminate collective bargaining.

Senate Minority Leader David Schapira repeated complaints that the group’s most active staffers aren’t registered lobbyists, even though they’re active in drafting and pushing for legislation.

The Goldwater Institute has consistently maintained that it is not in violation of any law, and that its staffers aren’t registered lobbyists because they operate under exemptions in the law.

The Goldwater Institute and the measures’ supporters argued that the proposals – particularly the elimination of union bargaining rights – would save governments in Arizona hundreds of millions of dollars.

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

Union representatives countered that their confer-and-meet ability is a tool that local governments use and it ultimately leads to better public services.

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