Battle Over Public Employee Rights In Arizona Heats Up Even More

The battle over government employee unions in Arizona is far from finished.

As Republican lawmakers marched forward Tuesday on a bill that was previously thought to be dead, two major national groups on opposite sides of the issue were calling in reinforcements.

At the center of the fight is a series of bills designed to devastate public unions in Arizona, making it harder for them to find funding and even taking away their right to collectively bargain. Three of the four bills stalled in the Senate two weeks ago, but one returned to life Tuesday and was quickly passed.

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, stepped into the fray on Friday with a call for its Arizona supporters to pressure lawmakers to bring all of the bills back.

“Please help us rein in government spending and put a leash on Arizona’s powerful government unions,” the group’s Arizona director, Tom Jenney, wrote on the organization’s website. The group provided a letter that supporters could copy and send to their lawmakers.

Americans for Prosperity has played a big role in the fight over public unions in other states in recent months.

In Wisconsin earlier this month, the group dropped $700,000 on television ads to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is facing a recall after signing a law last year to limit collective bargaining by public employees.

On the other side of the debate is the AFL-CIO, the powerful union that began fighting the bills through its Arizona office when they were introduced last month.

The AFL-CIO is planning to ramp up its fight on Thursday with a large protest at the Arizona Capitol.

The union’s Arizona director, Rebekah Friend, told TPM that the organization would be busing in people from throughout the state for the “day of action.” Some 700 people had already committed to the event and Friend said she expected more to show up.

“Our buses are full,” she said.

Two weeks ago, one of the bills in the package was already approved by the state Senate and sent to the House . If passed into law, it would bar government workers from having union dues automatically deducted their paychecks, a move that would make it more difficult for public labor organizations to get funding.

The other three bills in the package appeared to have died at the time, with Republicans saying they didn’t have enough votes to pass them.

But on Tuesday, one of the three remaining bills came back to life and quickly passed the Senate on an 18-11 vote, mostly along party lines. The bill would bar city, county and state governments from paying employees to do any work for the unions, a practice known as “release time.”

The bill apparently came back after something of a surprise twist. Police unions ended up negotiating with Republicans to get an exception for law enforcement put into the bill. If it goes into effect, law enforcement will be the only type of public labor organizations allowed to have employees do union work on government time.

Brian Livingston, the head of the state’s most powerful police union, the Arizona Police Association, told TPM that his organization tried to get other types of workers included in the exception. But he wasn’t sure whether that would happen.

The AFL-CIO’s Friend said she was upset that other unions had essentially turned their backs on their fellow workers.

“We’re not good with it,” Friend said. “I think they’re serving their membership. I don’t know that those actions save the greater good.”

The bill that sent unions scrambling last month would ban collective bargaining for all government workers at the city, county and state levels. It would have included police and firefighters, which have traditionally been left out of these kinds of restrictions in the past.

“It’s dead,” Livingston said. “We’ve been assured by leadership that it’s going nowhere.”

Yet Americans for Prosperity seemed to believe there was still hope for the legislation, with Jenney writing on the organization’s website that the collective bargaining bill as well as the others “will be heading soon to floor votes.”

The fourth bill is similar to the other paycheck measure and as of Tuesday was still stalled in the Senate.

From Talking Points Memo.

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