As Wisconsin teachers and other public union workers take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his plans to end collective bargaining, Arizona teachers wonder: Could there be an impact here?

Unlike Wisconsin, Arizona is a right-to-work state, along with 21 other states. The National Education Association has an affiliate here - the Arizona Education Association - and most school districts have individual chapters. But Arizona doesn't have collective bargaining, what public workers are arguing to keep intact in Wisconsin.

The education association represents teachers when lobbying Arizona lawmakers and in negotiation efforts, such as "meet and confer" or "interest based bargaining" with school district leadership.

"With collective bargaining, you're a little more of a partner at the table than what we see here. In some regards we are a partner, but there are other issues we're not always included on," Mesa Education Association president Kirk Hinsey said, pointing out that a school district's governing board ultimately makes the decisions.

The other difference, he said, is that teachers in union states can strike. If Arizona teachers did that, they could be fired and replaced.

The Arizona Education Association represents 30,000 teachers who voluntarily join the group, said AEA Vice President Joe Thomas, who spent 14 years as a teacher in Mesa.

"Teachers aren't the only people who are watching what's going on," Thomas said. "Certainly I think when it makes the news and it makes one of the blogs or Facebook, people are going to be inquisitive and see what's going on."

The association, Thomas said, fosters relationships between district employees and leadership. They meet to discuss ideas, share concerns and try to create positive working situations, Thomas said.

Unlike union states - where teachers pay some type of dues, even if they don't join - educators in Arizona can choose whether or not to join the association. But even if they don't, they're still represented.

In fact, when Mesa district officials sat down this month to start the "interest-based negotiating" process, part of the annual look at employee salaries, working conditions and benefits, it was Hinsey and other members of the Mesa Education Association at the table with them.

But that doesn't mean Arizona is immune to the anti-union sentiment flowing across the country, Hinsey said.

"Even though we're not a union state, what happens in Wisconsin will have a ripple effect," he said.

A lot of what's going on in Wisconsin, Thomas said, is about silencing the voice of the teachers and other public union workers.

"When you're being told you're going to lose 100-plus years of being able to sit at the table and have those informed discussions, that's alarming," he said.

Eric Stuebner, a seven-year teacher who works in Mesa, said he's grateful that Arizona, and Mesa in particular, allows for those open discussions. He's been able to keep tabs on the financial struggles facing the state and the impact on the district.

As a site representative for MEA, he takes that information and passes it on to fellow teachers, bus drivers and support staff.

"It really diminishes that, ‘Well, the district is going to do this,' idea. We're doing it together ... It diminishes that chance of the finger-pointing and the blaming because everybody will have that buy in," Stuebner said.

Arizona's Republican Senate leadership recently issued a statement supporting Wisconsin's governor and blasting the union leadership there.

"Wisconsin union activists also showed their true colors. Teachers called in sick so they could protest in Wisconsin's capitol. That forced school districts to shut down due to understaffed classrooms, and the state's students were left out in the cold," the statement read.

Mark Mix, president of Right to Work, told a local radio station in Wisconsin (WSAU-AM ) that the union is "flexing muscles" there, but that Walker's bill is, "important to the taxpayers, citizens and the public workers in Wisconsin."

Mix argued that the union in Wisconsin is a "private company" that can, because of how the law is set up there, "make demands of the government."

Most recently, Wisconsin union members agreed to some pay cuts, as long as collective bargaining remains.

But as of 3 p.m. Arizona time Thursday, Wisconsin lawmakers were at a standstill on Walker's budget bill. Part of the issue is that 14 Democrats fled the state to keep the bill from being voted on until Walker negotiates, they said.

(7) comments

AZGator

Instead of prohibiting collective bargaining (which doesn't exists in AZ anyway) itl looks like teachers will receive a 10% across the board pay cut next year, likely have larger class sizes, etc. Our children deserve better. Unless you are a teacher or are married to one, you have no idea of the hours they put in (sometimes an additional 6 hours per day grading, correcting and putting positive comments on students' papers), they often go out of pocket because there are not enough resources at the schools, they counsel students with difficult issues like dying parents, domestic abuse, etc., they create imaginative lesson plans to deal with every type of learner including learning disabled and advanced students in the same class. Teachers are amazing, and don't deserve the bad rap or the poor pay. Everyone has said this for a long time, but our legislature never takes steps to adequately deal with the issue - they just freeze or cut teacher salaries. What a sham, what a shame!

Tookie88

I am a teacher and I don't belong to any "union" or association. I feel that unions have served their purpose and need to simply go the way of the dinosaur. Unions are notoriously corrupt and are really only looking out for their and the politicians interests, not the workers.

Plus, I never understood why public sector jobs like teaching, police officers, fire fighters, etc need a union? These are a form of government employment with their paychecks coming from taxes....really, I would love someone to explain to me why government/public service jobs need a union???

Poorman

At ontime long ago unions were of some good,but not anymore.Posters cactusjumper and soricobob got it right,we don't really need them in this day and age.They cause more problems than they solve.

cactusjumper

Unions now days do not help the worker. They buy polititions so the bigwigs can get rich. Unions have pilfered America's wallet and of course they still want more. Outlaw unions so the rest of America can make a living.

soricobob

Funny, I grew up (and worked) in a union atmosphere, later moving to AZ. In the early days I feel the unions were necessary to protect the workers and their rights. However, when labor laws became more widespread, and the feds were more involved (as were the lawyers), unions did not flourish. In Arizona, which was not on the cutting edge of the union movement, they never caught on, so, they can't be done away with. However, there are other issues with which we must deal.

az2008

I support private-sector unions, however I feel they've fallen out of touch and become irrelevant. I think that's why unions only thrive in the public sector.

Unions in the public sector never made sense to me. In the private sector collective bargaining may be a good counter weight to executive excess. But, in the public sector, excess is intended to be dealt with at the polls. Employment is *service* to the public who can be persuaded to correct problems at the polls.

I think public-sector unions exist because they have a captive market. It's not like unionizing Fry's and then feeling the effect of shoppers heading to Walmart due to unreasonable demands (reflected in prices) at Fry's.

In a nutshell, that's what's perverse about public-sector unions. The public has no recourse. They can't vote with their feet.

Dale Whiting

Looking at the two differing traditions, one here in Arizona and the other there in Wisconsin, and recognizing that in Wisconsin, the teachers unions get the problem and have made the requested financial consession, The Conservative approach in Wisconsin would be to thank the unions, accept their consession and march on, collective bargaining left in tact. But no, the Neo-con of a governor wants to make a name for himself and admitted so in the faux interview on the phone with the fake David Koch. Voters get it and are liable to fire his behind.

As a Milwaukee County Administrator, Walker fired the union organized security guard staff, replacing them with an outside organization. Austensibly he would save money. But when sued successfully by that union, the back wages when added to the non-union wages paid will cost county government much more. AND the administrator of that private company doing security for the County Court house and several other facilities is himself a CONVICTYED FELLON. Atta boy now governor Walker. Mess things up even worse.

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