by Félix Pérez
A bipartisan group of Arizona state senators, standing firm against an assault on the right of educators, firefighters, police officers and other public service workers to advocate on behalf of students and communities, defeated a bill last week that would have prohibited workers from voluntarily having their union dues deducted from their paychecks.
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The legislation is similar to a wave of “payroll deduction” bills in various stages currently in at least 12 state legislatures — Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Tennessee.
The bills have striking similarities to model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a powerful and secretive organization of corporate leaders and state legislators that churns out legislative language to rewrite state laws so that they advance corporate interests.
High school English teacher Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, applauded the lawmakers’ decision to steer away from politically motivated distractions that have nothing to do with moving the state forward in educating students or creating jobs.
In a state facing challenges like rebuilding our economy and implementing the new common core standards, it is refreshing that there is bipartisan support for returning decisions to our local communities rather than pushing through ALEC’s divisive agenda, said Morrill.
Four Republican votes against the Arizona bill were critical to its defeat. Among those Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues in the 17-12 vote was Senate Majority Leader John McComish of Phoenix. “I don’t think this is the business of the state of Arizona. Rather, it’s an issue between local governments and their employee unions,” said McComish.
Another key voice that joined in the bipartisan majority was that of Republican Senator Rich Crandall, who stated, “The people of Arizona have elected us to move forward with big ideas. There’s a lot of small, controversial stuff that doesn’t do anything. . . Let’s focus on things that really matter to the people of Arizona.”
House Speaker Andy Tobin, also a Republican, has said he will not bring any anti-union bill to the House floor for a vote unless it first passed the Senate. Tobin has held fast despite pressure from Arizona’s Republican congressional delegation and Tea Party .
Opponents of payroll deduction say the legislation, sponsored by right-wing politicians and their corporate funders, interferes in local control and does nothing to create jobs for the middle class. The intent, they say, is to undermine the organizations workers rely on to stand up for students and communities and to do away with collective bargaining altogether.
The legislature passed a bill barring the deductions in 2011, but the bill excluded police and fire fighters. The law was thrown out by a federal court. Last year, a measure that didn’t exempt public safety personnel passed the Senate but died in the House.