A federal judge is blocking state lawmakers from imposing new restrictions on payroll deductions from the paychecks of unionized employees.
U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow said the law crafted this year by Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, unfairly singles out unions — and, specifically, their political activity — for unfair treatment. Snow pointed out that lawmakers are not creating similar hurdles for deductions for other purposes.
The judge also pointed out that lawmakers specifically exempted unions that represent police, firefighters and corrections officers. Snow said picking and choosing who is affected is unconstitutional discrimination.
Antenori blasted the judge’s logic.
“He’s trying to muddy the water, which is what I think judicial activists do, try to muddy the water, try to justify his B.S. arguments that somehow his ruling is justified,” he said. “It’s not the same.”
He vowed an appeal.
But Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, called the ruling a victory “for free speech for Arizona’s teachers.”
The AEA, one of the unions that sued, has been active in both working to electing lawmakers favorable to their issues as well as supporting tax hikes for education. That has often put the organization on the opposite site of issues from many Republican lawmakers.
Antenori, however, said politics had nothing to do with it. He said it was designed to help employees who he said have had a hard time halting payroll deductions for union political purposes.
The ruling does not declare the law, which had been set to take effect at the end of the week, illegal. It only prevents it from being enforced while the challenges make their way through court.
As approved, the legislation prohibits any public or private employer from deducing money from a worker’s paycheck for political purposes unless the employee gives written or electronic authorization each year.
But Snow said that exemption for public safety employees makes the law legally flawed.
“By imposing its burdens on the political speech of some unions and other organizations and not imposing like costs upon other similarly-situated unions, or on other organizations that can use the funds for political activity, the law is underinclusive and discriminates according to the speaker,” he wrote.
Antenori said that problem should be easy to resolve: Eliminate that public safety exemption. But that presumes that he could get the votes for a broader measure: In getting the exemption in the first place, the unions representing police and firefighters have shown they have more clout than many other labor organizations at the Capitol.
Even if Antenori were to succeed, that does not resolve all the legal problems the judge found with the legislation.
Snow pointed to another provision that requires the affected union to anticipate every year, in advance, how much of what they collect they intend to spend for political purposes. Unions that underestimate are fined a minimum of $10,000.
“This fine serves to deter and may even preclude expression necessary to provide an immediate response to late-breaking events,” the judge wrote. And Snow said this is far different than financial disclosure requirements of state election laws.
Antenori acknowledged his legislation requiring annual approval of workers for continued deductions for political purposes treats them different from those for other uses, ranging from charities to deferred compensation. But he said that is justified.
He said some union employees have gotten the run-around when they sought to end the political component of their dues. Antenori said this ensures that, at least once a year, they will be able to opt out easily.
“It eliminates the hassles, the foot dragging,” he said.
But Antenori also said earlier this year he believes that union members are being improperly forced to contribute to causes in which they might not believe. He said that requiring unions to get annual approval for payroll deductions ensures that members get better control of how their unions are spending their funds to influence elections.
Morrill, however, noted that Arizona is a “right to work” state, meaning no one can be forced to join a union. He said people join the AEA because they support the organization’s goals.