Arizona seeks to quash lawsuit challenging new limits on unions - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Arizona seeks to quash lawsuit challenging new limits on unions

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Posted: Saturday, August 6, 2011 5:30 am

An attorney for the state is asking a judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by unions who want to void two new statutes they say interfere with the rights of their members.

In legal papers filed in federal court in Phoenix, Assistant Attorney General Michael Goodwin argues that the unions have suffered no actual injury, at least not yet, from a law that requires unions to get specific authorization from each worker, on an annual basis, for any payroll deductions for political purposes. He said any potential loss of dues is purely speculative.

He also told Judge Murray Snow that there is no basis for the unions to sue over another bill that imposes new restrictions on when and where their members can picket.

“The (unions) give no indication that they plan to violate any of the laws in question,’’ Goodwin wrote.

“Indeed, they seem intent on complying with the laws,’’ he continued. “They have not demonstrated a realistic danger of imminent injury.’’

It is the limit on picketing that is the broader of the two bills.

“There already are some existing laws that limit picketing. But Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, who sponsored the measure, said they are ineffective.

For example, he said it is often difficult for companies to keep picketers off private property. This law allows a company to file legal papers ahead of time spelling out where their property lines are and, by extension, giving police clear authority to remove anyone who crosses that.

But what is causing a stir is that some of the restrictions would appear to affect those who are protesting on public sidewalks.

For example, one provision makes it illegal to picket in any way to “coerce or induce’’ an employer into joining a union.

Marcus Osborn, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the intent is not to bar “a healthy debate’’ about whether a company should unionize. He said this is aimed at more “aggressive’’ tactics.

Potentially more troubling from the unions’ perspective is another provision outlawing “mass assembly.’’

Some of that includes blocking entrances to work sites and public roads. But it also makes it illegal to “assemble other than in a reasonable and peaceful manner.’’

The union attorneys said some of the picketing they do now might be considered “unreasonable’’ by some, ranging from raised voices or noisemakers, or where certain words are used like “scab’’ to describe a strikebreaker.

“Such provision is likely to have a chilling effect on any assembly of workers as workers would have no way of knowing what a judge would consider ‘unreasonable’ in assembling,’’ the lawsuit states.

“You might have a point there,’’ Antenori conceded.

“But it’s up to the discretion of a judge,’’ he said. And Antenori said there already are court rulings defining what is and is not reasonable.

What is not reasonable, Antenori said, are pickets that defame or libel a company, perhaps saying it is using unfit meat for its products. He said that kind of picketing needs to be stopped.

Antenori acknowledged there are already laws that allow someone who has been defamed to sue. But he said that process can take too much time. And in the interim, Antenori said, a company’s business can be ruined.

The issue of union dues goes to Antenori’s contention 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.

But Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the measure is all about politics.

He pointed out 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.

“This bill attempts to quiet the voices of Arizona’s educators as they speak up for their profession, their students and for public education,’’ he said in a prepared statement.

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