The Following Article appeared in The AZ Capitol Times 2/15/2013
Arizona’s Republican congressmen recently sent a joint letter to House Speaker Andy Tobin asking him to push forward legislation barring automatic deductions of union dues from public employees’ paychecks.
But despite the pressure from the state’s congressional delegation, Tobin said he’s not moving any House bills on the matter until the Senate approves theirs.
“I think we’re just going to wait and see what the Senate does,” he said. “Why would I put members at risk if the Senate can’t even get a bill out?”
The issue of public employee paycheck deductions for union dues is seen as the last of the low-hanging fruit in Republicans’ fight against unions. The Legislature passed a bill barring the deductions in 2011, but the bill exempted public safety from the prohibition and a federal court threw it out.
Last year, a measure that didn’t exempt public safety personnel such as firefighters and police passed through the Senate but languished in the House. Tobin said he never put the bill up for a full House vote because it didn’t have the support of his Republican members and because then-Senate President Russell Pearce lobbied lawmakers against the measure.
Currently, there are two paycheck deduction bills in the House. Republican Rep. Michelle Ugenti of Scottsdale sponsored HB2026, which would force cities, towns, county boards and fire boards to vote whether to allow paycheck deductions by the end of the year or be prohibited from allowing the deductions. That bill passed the Government Committee, which she chairs, on a party line vote and is held up in the Rules Committee.
Republican Rep. Justin Olson sponsored HB2438, which would ban the practice and include public safety unions. The Goldwater Institute, which has led the charge against public employee unions, is backing the measure. Tobin has not yet assigned the bill to a committee.
There are also several similar measures in the Senate, but Republican Sen. Gail Griffin of Hereford is sponsoring the measure that has made the most progress. Her bill, SB1182, awaits debate and a final vote from the full Senate.
The two-page letter from the state’s four GOP members of the US House was dated February 5. The congressmen said the bill would go a long way toward providing a voice to individual government workers and forcing unions to be held accountable to their members.
“Unions spend the millions raked in from automatic renewals to fund political warfare that their members often oppose,” the congressmen wrote.
They noted that the “political warfare” tends to favor Democrats, as early estimates show that unions spent more than $400 million backing President Obama and Democratic congressional candidates in the 2012 election. In Arizona, unions backed Democrats despite a membership with diverse political beliefs, members of the delegation said.
They also wrote that the reason the unions are opposed to paycheck protection measures is on display in the state of Washington, where, within five years of a similar legislation being signed into law, the teacher’s union political action committee saw its voluntary deductions shrink by 75 percent.
“The only people who could oppose a measure like paycheck protection are those who believe that, when given the chance, their members will abandon supporting their causes,” they wrote.
Tobin responded that Arizona has been one of the toughest states against unions and the Legislature has passed no less than a half-dozen laws in recent years that unions opposed. They include the save our secret ballots proposition that voters approved in 2010, the governor’s personnel reform measures, several changes in the workers compensation laws and even the consolidated elections law.
As a result of the push to prohibit automatic paycheck deductions in recent years, the Arizona Education Association quit the practice, and only a handful of cities do it for their public safety personnel anyway, Tobin said.
Besides, he noted, Arizona is already a right to work state.
“Arizona is second to none in anti-union legislation,” he said.
But he starts to lose votes within the Republican caucus when public safety personnel are included in the bargain, and he doesn’t want to put his caucus members on the record on such a hot topic – giving fodder their potential primary election opponents – if the bill isn’t even going to pass.
He said that Republican lawmakers like himself are generally on the side of firefighters and cops, just as firefighters and cops generally support Republicans.
“I guess they think public safety is doing more harm than good. I have a public safety background, my father is a former law enforcement officer, my brother is on the job at phoenix fire, I love these people very much and they’re my heroes… They’re different, they’re not the same as other unions,” he said.
But since he tells Congress what to do all the time, Tobin said he doesn’t have a problem with the congressmen returning the favor. But he said their letter isn’t totally accurate.
“I’m always telling Washington to fix the EPA, fix Superior Mine, I need money for I-11, help me with sequestration. So, it’s ok for congressmen to share their view. I’m ok with that. But I think it would also be appropriate to have the letter written correctly,” he said.
The letter says that a half-dozen states, including union strongholds Michigan and Ohio, have passed paycheck protection legislation, but Tobin pointed out that even in Michigan, lawmakers carved out an exemption for public safety personnel.
“I don’t think they really understand what’s happened here. Michigan excluded public safety. That’s what we did, but we were thrown out in court,” Tobin said.