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2/17/2012 1:45:00 PM
Senate Bill would further weaken public employee unions

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- State senators approved legislation Thursday some charge is designed to weaken public employee unions.

SB 1484 scraps current law which allows state or local workers or teachers to have to sign up only once to have union dues deducted from their paychecks. Instead, the measure requires those employees to sign up annually for such deductions.

Several other measures crafted by the Goldwater Institute, which has been engaged in perennial fights with public employee unions, still await action. That includes a broad proposal to preclude collective state and local governments and school districts from engaging in any form of collective bargaining with employee groups.

The 19-11 vote occurred with two Republicans, Rich Crandall and Jerry Lewis, both of Mesa, siding with Democrats against the measure. The bill now goes to the House.

Central to the battle -- and the dues question in particular -- is the power of unions.

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said there is a cost to the government to operate a system that allows deductions, a cost borne by the government and, by extension, the taxpayers.

He said there is nothing inherently wrong with automatic deductions. What is wrong, Antenori said, is using those public resources to help unions with their efforts to lobby the Legislature, often in ways he believes are contrary to what other taxpayers might want.

"If you have people that are able to bring large amounts of money and large organizations to bear to influence elected officials or bodies for their benefit at the expense of others, I think we have to seriously consider this,' he said. "All this does is level the playing field.'

Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, pointed out that the legislation still allows employees to have their union dues deducted from their paychecks. The only difference, he said, is they have to make a conscious choice each year.

"This bill is kind of like renewing a magazine subscription,' he said, with those whose money is being taken forced to decide each year if the investment is worth it. And he denied that the legislation is designed to deter anyone from keeping up his or her union membership.

But Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said any arguments that this change is fairer to taxpayers is undermined by a report from legislative budget staffers.

They cited comments by the city of Phoenix that having to process annual renewals for union dues from all of its workers, rather than make changes only when specifically requested, would result in a one-time expense of $300,000, with an ongoing annual cost of $85,000.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said there's an answer to that: Eliminate the right of unions to get payroll deductions in the first place. In fact, such a measure was approved by a Senate committee but was never brought to the full Senate.

She said the state is being "very generous' in allowing any deductions at all for union dues.

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