As a Phoenix firefighter for 26 years and the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona (PFFA), an organization that represents more than 6,700 firefighters statewide, I know quite a bit about “protection.” In fact, protecting others has been the basis of my career.
That’s why I want to set the record straight about the years-long effort by certain special interests to pass a so-called “paycheck protection” bill at the Arizona Legislature. The truth? “Paycheck protection” is a sham, a denial of freedom dreamed up by far-right extremists like the Goldwater Institute, lobbyists and power brokers who want to neuter public safety unions so they can expand their own political power.
Why do I say it’s a sham? Because, simply put, paychecks in Arizona don’t need protection. They’re not under attack. They’re not being dunned or reduced against people’s will (unless, of course, you count the government’s need for more taxes). In Arizona, a “right to work”
state, no union member’s paycheck is subject to a dues deduction without their express permission.
In last week’s Arizona Capitol Times, in a story headlined “Union foes prepare to take fight to the ballot,” someone named Roy Miller, the chairman of a shadow campaign called Protect Employee Paychecks, told a reporter about his possible ballot initiative: “The idea is to prevent people from having to pay in to something that they don’t approve of.”
I’ll say it again: Firefighters, police officers and others who have paycheck deductions made must approve all deductions beforehand. These deductions can be stopped at any time simply by letting the HR department know. The voluntary nature of these deductions is guaranteed by Arizona Revised Statute 16-921, which in part makes it against the law for “any person soliciting an employee for a contribution to … fail to inform such employee, at the time of such solicitation, of his right to refuse to so contribute without any reprisal.”
Paychecks in Arizona already are protected by law, just as the United States Constitution protects union members’ freedom of association. So what’s really happening here? Harassment, mostly. The Goldwater types know that changing state law to create yearly deduction elections — instead of one such decision per employee — will create an accounting and logistical nightmare for groups like the PFFA. They also understand that hundreds of man-hours spent pursuing deduction forms is time not spent trying to stop their other ludicrous schemes — like the so-called “open meeting bargaining” bill they’ve created as another solution in search of a problem.
Already in Arizona, every municipality’s contract with its police officers and firefighters is vetted and voted on in a fully transparent manner — at a city council meeting, where the public and anyone opposed can weigh in on the terms. That’s as it should be, of course. What have the special interests proposed instead? That the complex negotiation between labor and management — a relationship akin to a marriage — be carried out with the public and the media (and Goldwater Institute lawyers) present for every step and every conversation.
Given Goldwater’s propensity to sue at the slightest provocation, racking up huge fees at the expense of taxpayers, it’s hard to see how such “openness” will serve the public. If you don’t believe me, try having a divorce lawyer present at the kitchen table the next time you and your spouse discuss the household budget.
Of course, serving the public never seems to be the point when it comes to bills like these. They have nothing to do with keeping taxpayers safe or protecting paychecks. Instead, they’re political power plays, designed to attack firefighters and cops, slashing our freedoms to benefit an extremist point of view.
Protection? Please. Ask any firefighter. We’d rather fight a three- alarm blaze with a Dixie cup than have our paychecks “protected” by Goldwater lobbyists, lawyers and campaign operatives paid by out-of- state money.
— Tim Hill is president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona.