Union outrage

Supporters are packed into a ballroom at a victory party for the Wisconsin recall effort at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, Wis., Tuesday evening, Jan. 17, 2012. Opponents of Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker submitted nearly twice as many signatures Tuesday as required to force a recall election, but still face the challenge of transforming public outrage over his moves against unions into actual votes to oust him from office. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King)

State lawmakers launched a broad attack Wednesday against public unions, including an absolute ban on state and local governments and school districts from bargaining with organizations that represent public workers.

The party line vote in the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Government Reform came after extensive testimony from the Goldwater Institute, which crafted the language. Steve Slivinski, lobbying for approval of SB 1485, told lawmakers that just eliminating collective bargaining alone could save Arizona taxpayers $550 million a year within seven years.

During the four hours of sometimes heated testimony, Mike Colletto representing the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona told lawmakers their vote to ban collective bargaining -- and similar ones Wednesday on three others targeting unions -- will provoke a "firestorm'' among members who will find other ways to affect policy. Options include ballot initiatives, like the 2006 measure that gave Arizona its first-ever minimum wage law, as well as working to elect more friendly legislators.

Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute, which has championed other anti-union measures in Arizona, said that just proves his organization's point that unions wield too much power. He said that Colletto was making "implied threats ... that if you don't vote the way they tell you to vote, they're going to exact revenge.''

The legislation is close to what Wisconsin lawmakers approved last year, a move that led to a recall against Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It also is similar to what was approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature, only to have it overturned in November by voters.

Hanging in the balance in Arizona is the future of unions that represent tens of thousands of workers at all levels of government and whether they are good or bad for the state.

Slivinski, an economist, said much of it comes down to money.

He said public employees earn more than those in the private sector. Slivinski said once governments are precluded from bargaining with employee groups, future wage hikes will be minimized.

As proof, he said that in Virginia, which abolished collective bargaining years ago, public employees now make less than those in private industry.

But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said all that is a smoke screen.

"At the end of the day, this bill is about union busting,'' he said.

The 4-2 vote for SB 1485 vote came despite testimony from several union officials who pointed out that, technically speaking, Arizona has no collective bargaining. And public employee strikes are illegal.

Instead, various levels of government have "meet and confer'' agreements, which include not only issues of salary and benefits but working conditions.

Jennifer Loredo of the Arizona Education Association told lawmakers that, for teachers, these talks include preparation time, class size and supplies. All of that, she said, helps create better schools.

There was similar testimony from Colletto.

But Dranias said if this all really benefits the public in the long run, there is no need for the private negotiations that now take place.

"It is obvious they're not engaging in these negotiations so that they can achieve cost savings or have whistle blowers address problems in government,'' he said. "This is a secret negotiation conducted by a labor cartel protected by laws that compel the government employer to bargain with them until they're happy.''

Three other anti-union measures passed by the same 4-2 margin, including:

  • Barring cities and counties from paying release time to workers who are actually doing union business.
  • Requiring annual authorization for payroll deductions, a move designed to affect union dues.
  • A more far-reaching version to ban payroll deductions entirely.

The votes came after some often-heated rhetoric about the whole issue of the role of unions and their strength.

Dranias said the legislation barring collective bargaining will make a "fundamental change'' that will make government more responsive to citizens by eliminating the "unfair advantage'' unions now have.

"Collective bargaining laws are government power used by unions to coerce government employers to pay them as much as they can possibly extract from the taxpayer,'' he said. "This is about power and control of the public purse.''

Colletto said all that ignores the fact that any agreements have to be ratified by elected local officials or school board members. He said their prime interest is in doing what keeps their constituents happy.

He said that played out last year in Phoenix where anti-union candidates for mayor and council were defeated. Colletto said that shows residents apparently like the services provided by public employees and agree with the decisions of city officials to work with them.

Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, said the results may be more reflective of the fact the city's elections are in odd-numbered years, meaning lower turnout, as well as the effects of union money in the campaigns.

"We are putting money in the process,'' Colletto responded. "But other people are putting money in the process.''

Colletto also said he assumes that Murphy is not advocating that public employees give up their free speech rights to participate in the political process.

There are no current figures of the number of unionized public sector workers in Arizona. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2010, the most recent figures available, there were 161,000 union members in Arizona for both public and private employers.

The direct effect of any change in bargaining laws on state workers is likely to be minimal, as Arizona officials, unlike some local governments, do not negotiate with unions. But it comes as Gov. Jan Brewer is attempting to strip employees within the state's merit system of their protections under the personnel rules including the right to hearings in cases of discipline and firing.

Brewer, however, is using an incentive: Workers who agree to give up their merit protections would get a 5 percent raise; those who want to maintain the coverage would not.

That move is opposed by Local 3111 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees which says it represents about 9,000 state workers.

 

 

(15) comments

OldMan

Go to Opensecrets.org. Research the donors to our federal representatives. Democrats have several unions as donors. Republicans have financial groups as donors.

No unions, fewer donors to Democratic elected officials. Money buys seats.
We will then have a one party system in Arizona.

evresident

@davudflucier: "This is no way to build a 21st century economy or a future for the next generation."

Sadly, our children will pay a price for this. Gilbert Education Association, the "union" for teachers in Gilbert Public Schools, is ahead of the curve in gutting protections for members. The president of the GEA threw a member under the bus after the teacher reported bullying and racial discrimination at Meridian Elementary School. The teacher now is being fired for being "uncollegial," among other dastardly deeds. "Uncollegial" does not appear in Merriam-Webster dictionaries, but now it's a firing offense in Gilbert! BTW, when the Gilbert School District couldn't find a definition in state law for "unprofessional conduct," they used a Merriam-Webster definition to bring that charge against this teacher. Read the crazy story at
www.westernconnections.com

Rational Human

Is it all about union busting? Great if it diminishes union power. Unions were needed back in the day when industrialists took advantage of workers and compensations were low, but today your cradle to grave government, that you socialists love so much, is taking care of you. All the unions do is make the rest of us pay their bloated salaries for doing nothing for their members. It's time to get rid of the mob influenced big labor unions once and for all. If you have worth as a worker you will be justly compensated. If you're a lousy, uneducated, useless employee you need to accept what you are and stop demanding equal compensation for unequal work ethics. Let's allow collective bargaining to stay on the collective only. That way you socialists can share the wealth regardless of the work you do. After all, isn't that fair? lol

Rational Human

Bargaining with public workers as a group is bargaining with a union whether or not they pay dues. People are not the same and have different value as workers and should not be paid the same wage regardless of their relative worth. Everyone should be paid as to the value they are worth. Collective bargaining is socialism and must be stamped out in all it's forms. We have chosen to reject your communism. Got to Cuba if you love it so much. I hear they have an excellent health care system. lol

Irons1

Leon, as usual, you are misinformed, but then this is nothing new. I would like to know what Cadillac health plans you are referring to. Is it the fact we even have one? I know you don't like the fact that there is a health care plan as according to you, if you can't pay for it, die. There is no teachers union that has any power here, but the idiots like you reside in the legislature, until we get rid of them, the same stupid ideas pursist. You might want to remember what happened to Pierce.

Bingo6

As to your low opinion on the "possible" bus strike, these drivers, ARE NOT, public employees. They are private employees, working for a private employer,Veolia Transportation, the most profitable private transportation company in the world.

Why, isn't there any outrage towards this French company that makes its money syphoning yours, and my. tax money back to France.

As to a possible strike, nobody wants, that, but 18 months without any agreement is a slap in the face to all, workers, especially when the negotiations have very little to do with wages, that have remained stagnet for years.

Leon Ceniceros

Something isn't adding up. We have Public Sector commenters saying that they could be earning 25% more in the Private Sector. Well, if that's the case...why are these people still working in Public Sector jobs?

COULD IT BE BECAUSE OF THE "CADILLAC HEALTH CARE"...THE ...."CAVIAR RETIREMENT PLANS" ???

Folks, Public Service workers aren't paying ..."UNION DUES"...up the u-know-what if they were getting a sizeable benefit from being in....POLICE UNIONS....THE FIREFIGHTER'S UNION...the TEACHERS' UNION.....the PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS' UNION.

There is going to be a ...TRANSPORTATION STRIKE....this Spring....who is orchestrating this.............STRIKE......yup, you guess it the....TRANSPORTATION WORKERS' UNION.

We have seen how these ....UNIONS....have crippled the...PUBLIC'S SAFETY and PUBLIC SERVICE....in the past...............THIS BILL WOULD PUT AND END TO ALL PUBLIC WORKERS' ..........STRIKES.....NEVER AGAIN WOULD AN ARIZONA CITIZEN BE SACRIFICED FOR ...........A COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT.....A RAISE.....MORE AND MORE AND MORE RETIREMENT BENEFITS..................NEVER AGAIN.

Rich

"First, it noted that federal employees with the least amount of education receive about a 20% better compensation than do their private sector peers (compensation = salary plus benefits); federal employees with a college degree made a modest amount more (about 5%) compared to private sector peers; but federal employees with degrees beyond a bachelor's actually made considerably less than their private sector peers, with those with PhD's earning 23% less in compensation compared to private sector peers."

Could you offer a better statistical evaluation of what I said? Ordinary +20%. exceptional -23%. We need the figures reversed. I hold a PhD, I don't bargain collectively.

billrichardson

I remember vividly the picture of Gov. Jan Brewer signing recalled Senator Russell Pearce's SB 1070. The picture she still uses for fundraising purposes. She was surrounded by dozens of members of the state's largest police union.

Mike McClellan

By law, does an municipality have to bargain now with a union? I don't believe it does in AZ (correct me if I'm wrong) -- in education, a district can choose "meet and confer" but that is non-binding. Districts will often cut those talks and impose whatever the board chooses. Does Phoenix have to bargain with police and fire? Or does the city choose to?

Is Goldwater Institute just carrying water for ALEC? And how did the "economist" for Goldwater arrive at the $550 million per year savings if collective bargaining (which is a misnomer in this state) was eliminated? Just because he says it doesn't make it so -- in 2010, when Prop 100 was under discussion, the Goldwater Institute economist said we'd lose up to 140,000 jobs because of it. Instead, we've had some tiny net job creation since the proposition was approved. Take what that propaganda mill says with a large grain of salt.

Finally, as to the public sector compensation vs. the private sector compensation, a recent GAO report on federal employees gave a more nuanced view of the argument that public sector employees get better compensation: First, it noted that federal employees with the least amount of education receive about a 20% better compensation than do their private sector peers (compensation = salary plus benefits); federal employees with a college degree made a modest amount more (about 5%) compared to private sector peers; but federal employees with degrees beyond a bachelor's actually made considerably less than their private sector peers, with those with PhD's earning 23% less in compensation compared to private sector peers.

So it'd be good to see that kind of breakout for state and city employees here in AZ, too. And maybe look at this: when the economy was going in strong at the turn of the century through the middle of the last decade, did public employees earn more than private ones? That is, did the recession drive down private employee compensation dramatically while not having the same effect on public employees?

As an example, many teachers in AZ didn't have a salary cut during the recession, but were frozen in their salaries (some for up to 5 years and holding) and saw the cost of health care rise to where in some districts, employees paid almost $12,000 a year for health care, effectively lowering their overall compensation

Rational Human

"The 4-2 vote for SB 1485 vote came despite testimony from several union officials who pointed out that, technically speaking, Arizona has no collective bargaining. And public employee strikes are illegal."

Well if that's the case I fail to see how this is an attack. Everyone is hurting folks, but unions are like anyone else in that they want to minimize how much their people have to suffer. This is a good bill for the people of Arizona who are enormously not union.

OldMan

it proves his point that "unions have too much power".........excuse me, but who wrote the bill? Unions are trying to protect people against the real power brokers.

davidflucier

When are the people of Arizona going to wise up and rid themselves of ideologues and extremists?

Sure, drive those wages down, kick up those unemployment numbers, furlough those workers, cut their healthcare benefits, cut their educational system, push them towards an ER for treatment that's 10x more expensive than a simple doctor visit. Raise taxes on students, the sick, the elderly, the poor.

This is no way to build a 21st century economy or a future for the next generation.

IceCat

Just got to love these Republicans...let's get rid of unions in a right to work state...

He said public employees earn more than those in the private sector. [sad]
The above comment does not apply to state or Maricopa County rank and file employees. Neither has received a raise in five years, unless of course you're a department head, then you get a 5% every year.

Rich

"He said public employees earn more than those in the private sector. "

If true it rather explains why government doesn't work that well.

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