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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state April 29, 2016

3/12/2013 10:30:00 AM
At the capitol: Playing politics with union politics

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Unable to get the plan through the Republican-controlled Legislature, a party activist is seeking a public vote on a measure that would undermine union political influence.

The initiative unveiled Monday would require that employees give annual written approval before any money taken from their paychecks could be used for political purposes. That includes not just supporting or opposing candidates but even lobbying at the Legislature.

Roy Miller said the measure promotes freedom.

"We're just trying to ensure that employees who are asked to make political donations have a choice in making it,' he said.

But Miller, a cofounder of the conservative and anti-union Goldwater Institute, is looking at it through a particular political lens.

"Even though 50 to 60 percent maybe at the most of employees favor liberal causes, the union money and the money forced from contributions goes almost 90 percent to liberal causes,' he said. "So that's not right.'

"It's just a purely political move,' said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix. "It's another effort to try to keep people out of the political process.'

Campbell acknowledged that the initiative would not bar unions from political activities. But he said the hurdle of annual written consent for deductions is unnecessary.

"When people decide to join a union or whatever organization we're talking about, they give their consent in the beginning,' he said.

Campbell noted that Arizona is a "right to work' state, meaning no one can be forced to join a union. He said if members are unhappy with the stance the union is taking they are free to quit at any time.

Miller, however, said that is based on an incorrect premise of why people join unions in the first place.

"I don't think that there ever was an assumption that the purpose of unions was politics,' he said. "The purpose of unions is worker benefits.'

And he said that just because an employee wants to belong to a union does not mean they want some of their funds spent for politics.

Miller conceded, though, his measure is one sided because it targets only unions and not other voluntary organizations where individuals pay money for a specific purposes but some ends up being used for lobbying.

He acknowledged, for example, that an individual might belong to AAA for the towing benefits.

But that organization also lobbies at the Capitol for things like new laws on seat belts and child restraints, issues that might not be supported by all AAA members. Nothing in the proposed constitutional amendment requires a separate opt-in for that portion of the annual dues.

Similarly, someone who buys auto insurance through State Farm, which is a mutual company, owned by policyholders, might disagree with the positions taken by its lobbyist.

"That's a good point,' Miller said when asked about other organizations. But he said that the goal here is to do what is politically possible.

Similar measures have failed in the Legislature.

One that did manage to get approved in 2011 was voided by a federal judge because it specifically singled out unions -- and specifically their political activity -- for unfair treatment. Judge Murray

Snow pointed out that lawmakers did not create similar hurdles for deductions for other purposes.

He also said the measure specifically exempted unions that represent police, firefighters and corrections officers. Snow said picking and choosing who is affected is unconstitutional discrimination.

Miller's measure contains no such exemption. And it could sidestep the other issues because it would amend the Arizona Constitution.

The initiative needs 259,213 valid signatures by July 3, 2014 to qualify for the ballot that year.

Miller said he has no specific source of funds lined up at this point to gather the necessary signatures. He said, though, there are promises of financial support from individuals who were involved in a 2010 ballot campaign to outlaw union organizing efforts without a secret ballot.

Miller is a retired banker and business consultant who helped found the Goldwater Institute, a conservative organization that lobbies on behalf of free-market principles and has been at the forefront of various anti-union measures.

Taylor Waste

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