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Working In These Times

Friday, Feb 3, 2012, 1:30 pm

Wisconsin on Steroids? Arizona GOP Wants to Make State Most Anti-Union in Nation

BY Roger Bybee

“Wisconsin on steroids” –a sweeping set of anti-union laws even more severe than those passed in Madison last March over massive public outcry—is now on the legislative agenda in Arizona. Arizona Republicans seek to ban local unions of teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants from collective bargaining, and would even prohibit local officials from conferring with unions. These and other proposals set a new low in proposed restrictions on union rights.

The draconian package of bills includes:

  1. A ban on local officials from bargaining with unions. It would even ban state and local units of government from conferring with unions. 
  2. Public employees could no longer have their dues deducted from their paychecks.
  3. Enforcement of a “paycheck protection” plan making it harder for unions to get contributions for pro-labor candidates.
  4. Prohibit local governments from granting release time for union activities, so that union leaders would have to use personal time to resolve issues with management.

“We consider this even worse than the [anti-public union] legislation that Gov. Walker pushed in Wisconsin, “said AFL-CIO Executive Director Rebeka Friend. She believes the new wave of legislation is aimed at preventing union members from speaking out against the privatization of public services in Arizona.

Privatization has long been a central goal of both the American Legislative Exchange Council (see here and here), a national group funded heavily by the billionaire Koch brothers that drafts and promotes state legislation, and the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, an ALEC affiliate.

“This is a Goldwater Institute attack,” Friend explained. “They’re a think-tank very prominent in anti-union activities, and their main goal is privatizing public services.
We stand in the way of what they want because union members know what is needed for good public services,” she said. “Our members are a barricade to what ALEC and the Goldwater Institute want in terms of privatization. ... This legislation is for the corporate donors, not the taxpayers."

While victories for Gov.  Walker and others have come at a huge political cost, the Republicans have arch-conservative Jan Brewer as governor and super-majorities in both houses of the legislature. Walker now faces a recall election demanded by 1.1 million citizens, almost as many as voted for him in 2010. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich was humiliated when the voters in November repealed his law effectively stripping public workers of their rights.

But that has not halted their zealous comrades in Indiana and Arizona from escalating the battle against worker rights. Much of the nation is comprised of states lacking the same strong union traditions of Wisconsin and Ohio that have persisted despite a decline in union membership.

Corporations and the Right are currently focusing on states with lower levels of union organization and the absence of other mass-based advocacy groups. Thus, last week anti-union Republican legislators in Indiana rammed through “right-to-work” legislation that will outlaw the union shop and drive more workers into poverty, a condition already shared by one of three Hoosiers. Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the law this week.

Arizona has long been a “right-to-work,” and state employees lack any rights to collectively bargain. Nonetheless, right-wing legislators have began a drive to totally silence the state’s small but vigorous labor movement in their drive for privatization.
AFSCME Local 2960 President Frank Piccioli tore into the legislation during a televised debate with a Republican legislator. Piccioli declared, “ The senator is trying to destroy representation for the middle class.”

After quoting Ronald Reagan—who at one time was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild union—asserting that freedom cannot exist where unions are banned, Piccioli laid out a strong appeal to Arizona's broader public:

They’re trying to destroy representation for firefighters, police, for 911 responders and teachers. Instead of going after the CEOs and banks that caused our problems, they’re trying to shift the blame to public employees.

The Goldwater Institute’s Nick Granias was remarkably frank in explaining how the legislation would cripple public unions so members would then seem them as useless. As Talking Points memo stated:

Granias said the measures were inspired by Wisconsin but were more modeled after legislation passed in Virginia about 30 years ago. He said the goal of the measures wasn’t to ban public unions from Arizona but to make them seem obsolete.

“Gradually this would cause people to leave the unions as they recognized that unions no longer have an unfair bargaining advantage given to them by collective bargaining laws,” Dranias said. “They’ll realize that unions don’t do much for them.”

But Friend, Piccioli and the labor movement of Arizona believe that the Republican legislators are targeting a highly popular segment of the population: police officers, firefighters, teachers and first responders, among others.

The Republicans are also overtly standing with the richest 1% at a time when unemployment remains relatively high, Arizona is troubled by one of the nation's worst foreclosure rates, and the state is marked by vivid contrasts between the lives of the elite and the vast majority.

Within the next two weeks, Friend will be summoning AFL-CIO members and allies to the state capitol to try to stop the current anti-union wave sweeping across the country from dealing another blow.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger's work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcommunications.org/zspace/rogerdbybee.

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