Arizona Unions Fight
Arizona AFL-CIO Executive Director Rebekah Friend Discusses The Unprecedented Attacks On Working People At State Legislature
Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
March 7, 2012 — Arizona’s fiftieth legislative session is providing some intense Centennial fireworks thanks to an unprecedented attempt to erode the power of unions in order to stifle the voices of working people and open the door to increased privatization of state government, according to Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO.
Unions throughout the state have been actively fighting back against four bills introduced in the Arizona Senate this session that seek to ban collective bargaining among public employees (SB 1485), prohibit public employers from deducting union dues from paychecks (SB 1487), mandate yearly declarations of union membership (SB 1484), and prohibit public employers from paying employees for union activities (SB 1486). The Arizona AFL-CIO and many other unions throughout the state have rallied their troops for several rallies at the state capitol as well as working to increase their lobbying efforts against these bills.
Friend agreed to talk with Modern Times Magazine about the issues and forces behind this debate.
Did you in anyway foresee the assault on union activity coming in this legislative session?
They have tried various bills over the years at the legislature. We have had various anti-labor bills bills be introduced over the years but never a full frontal attack like this. I am also the lobbyist for the AFL-CIO and before that, up until 2002, I was the lobbyist for my union during the attempted deregulation of utilities. What I have seen over the last three or four years is increasing extremism, increasing hostilities towards a lot of groups, not just workers. Women, children, elderly, disabled, pick a group and a desire to not have discussion or debate, but to be very stuck in ideology.
The Goldwater Institute is openly touting the passage of the four anti-union bills...
They are certainly operating as a lobbyist down there, which is out of their range as a 501c3. They have grown exponentially in power over the past several sessions. Now they are far removed from a think-tank that puts out policy papers to actually lobbying for legislation and having very close relationships with certain legislators. We really experienced it during the hearings for the four bills when in the hearing room was union members and the leaders that advocate for them and there was about seven to nine members of the Goldwater Institute, along with some tea partiers they had rallied to speak on these issues with talking points on Goldwater Institute letterhead.
Common Cause is working to have the 501c3 status of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, revoked due to what they perceive is also a prohibition on lobbying. Do you know if anyone is actively pursuing a revocation of the Goldwater Institute’s 501c3 status?
We’ve talked about it, but right now, the legislature has a bill to allow 501c3’s to lobby — of course only the ones that they select. But the Goldwater Institute is like an arm of ALEC. These bills are almost verbatim from ALEC model bills so the Goldwater Institute is kind of the mouth and ALEC is kind of the brain. I think that if they want to be lobbyists, they should have to do what the rest of us have to do — register as lobbyists and have restrictions on what we can do as far as giving people monies. The playing field needs to be leveled legally, then we can return to a fair legislative process.
Having lived in Arizona all of your life, what does the Goldwater Institute name mean to you?
I didn’t run in Goldwater circles growing up. I was born to a single mother that lived in downtown Phoenix. My mother actually waited on the Goldwaters at the Phoenix Country Club. In the family I grew up in, Goldwater as not somebody we looked at positively because of his stances on right-to-work, the Bracero program, so we didn’t swim in the same pool. But in his later life, when I became familiar with him, I think his views then and the institute that now carries his name are worlds apart. I never had a great taste for republicans to begin with, but looking at older republicans to new republicans — and I don’t mean their age — it seems to be a very different world. I can’t imagine that he would be pleased with some of the bilge that the Goldwater Institute comes out with today. But even the Goldwater Institute has changed in the past several years. A few years ago, I actually debated Darcy Olson, who runs the Goldwater Institute, on a public television program regarding the minimum wage increase and after that, we agreed to meet to see where we had common ground and we actually met a couple of times. I cannot imagine that going on now. Even they have shifted extremely to the right in the last few years. The minimum wage initiative was in 2006, so we are not even talking decades ago. We are talking about a very short period of time where they have become more radicalized and extreme.
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