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
You mentioned in your speech on the capitol grounds last week that folks in the legislature and from the Goldwater Institute are calling unions and their members, “thugs and goons.” Had you ever heard that from elected officials before the radicalization of the conservative movement?
I have never heard up until the last few years labor people be referred to on the senate floor as thugs and goons. Sen. Sylvia Allen read a letter that President Trumka (AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka) had written supporting the uprising in Egypt on the Senate floor and she said the reason he supported it was because Egypt was going to be communist and labor wanted that. I have never heard those kind of statements until the last few years. We have had legislators who thought unions were not necessary, or who thought no one should be made to join them, but they were eventually educated and learned that this is a right-to-work state so no one had to join. But the smears are completely new.
It does seem to be a common misconception among Arizona conservatives that workers in this state are compelled to join a union.
This is a right-to-work state so everybody that belongs to a union whether it is public or private, joins voluntarily. Dues are voluntary. My organization is voluntary. Affiliates do not have to join the AFL-CIO. There is no one in a union that does not want to be in the union. If they decide they no longer want to be in the union, it is a very simple process to recuse themselves. It is a matter of an e-mail or a postcard. It is not a complicated process to get in or out of a union in Arizona.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee came out with a report saying SB 1484 would end up costing municipalities nearly $100,000 a year in order to verify that union members want to stay union members every year. Isn’t the fact that many conservatives in the legislature do not understand that fact directly tied to such uninformed actions?
There are a couple of bills that show that. There is the yearly re-authorization (SB 1484) which means that an employer has to go to every union member every year and have then reassert that they want to stay in the union. That is something that no other voluntary group has to do. The other one is stopping having dues voluntary deducted from a paycheck (SB 1487). There are any types of deductions that an employee can sign up for — child support payments, car payments, mortgage payments, insurance payments. Now, union dues are just one of the things that they can have deducted from their paycheck. One of these bills (SB 1487) would disallow that.
It appears that the ban on collective bargaining (SB 1485) appears to be going nowhere in this legislative session. Is there any fear that it could come back to life later in the session?
In all my years at the legislature, I have learned that nothing is truly dead and now we have a governor who likes to call special sessions. Nothing is ever really dead and you can’t trust that it is. The collective bargaining bill is rather strange because we don’t have collective bargaining for public employees and it extends to any political subdivision. What we do have is meet and confer. Meet and confer isn’t as much about wages. Most of the times it is not about wages at all. It is more about working conditions, safety conditions. What they are trying to say, essentially, is that where now teachers sit down with the school board to talk about how decisions on class sizes are impacting them or issues in the classroom, technology changes, they want to ban those. They want to prohibit teachers and police from doing that. Really it will not stop organizational structure, it will stop the ability of workers to speak to the people that have direct control over the safety and education of a community. The other thing is, the cities are not asking for it. The city of Tucson voted unanimously against these four bills. The city of Phoenix, except for councilman DiCiccio, is not asking for them. Whenever a bill comes up to the legislature you should always ask what problem is this trying to solve and that question has not been answered with these bills.
The Goldwater Institute and other supporters of the bills say the aim is to save cash for the state and local municipalities...
It has nothing to do with cash. These bills don’t save any money. The city of Phoenix has recently said that it will cost them $300,000. Here is what happens if you get rid of public employee unions: you have nobody to stand in the way of privatization. They have been trying to privatize the government here for a long time and if you track the private prisons, they have been pretty effective in doing that. And where is that money going? It is going to friends of ALEC and friends of the Goldwater Institute. The other piece is unions are the finger in the damn against the flood-waters of attempts to take away the rights of women, children, the disabled, seniors. We are the ones that advocate for the rights of working people. Most of my lobbying work is not on anti-union issues, but for issues that serve a greater good and have nothing to do with unionization. You take us out of the loop, because we do voluntarily collect PAC monies and we do contribute to candidates that support working families — both unionized and non-unionized — and it is a “two-for-one” for them. If they pass these bills they open the path to privatization and get rid of the political voice of the one group that collectively stands up for the rights of working people. If I were one of them I would think it is a good strategy, too. But I am not one of them.
John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.
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