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Updated Feb 25, 2013 - 6:12 pm

Arizona Senate chief says union bills are priority

PHOENIX — An effort to limit the ability of unions to collect fees
directly from the paychecks of employees is a priority for state and national
Republicans, the president of the Arizona Senate said Monday.

President Andy Biggs, who backs anti-union legislation that would impact police
and firefighters, told The Associated Press that he remains optimistic about the
effort despite signs that some state Senate Republicans aren’t too keen about
going to war with the unions that often help bankroll their campaigns.

“The Republicans nationally make it a priority, the state party, the
Republicans, make it a priority,” said Biggs, R-Gilbert. “I mean, yeah, of
course, it’s a priority.”

Legislation seeking to ban automatic union payments from paychecks issued by
public employers without annual authorization failed in a 17-12 vote in the
state Senate last Thursday, with four Republicans siding with Democrats against
the effort. Public-safety unions oppose the measure.

Biggs said as long as the Legislature remains in session, the effort is up for
debate.

“It’s not over until sine die,” he said, referring to the day the Legislative
session ends. “I’ve seen bills come back that I would never thought had a
chance, so I never count anything out.”

Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, is pushing a similar ban that has won Republican
support in committee. He said he would prefer to go further and ban union
payment deductions altogether because public employees use government time to
set up the deductions.

“There is no reason taxpayers should have to pay for this,” he said.

The measures are among a series of anti-union bills introduced this session.
Murphy is also pushing legislation that would prohibit a public employee from
doing union activities during paid work time.

It’s unclear whether any of the measures will gain enough votes to pass the
Senate, or to move forward in the House. Speaker Andy Tobin has said he was
waiting for the Senate to take action on the paycheck deduction issue and isn’t
inclined to support such measures.

“I’m a big supporter of public safety, always have been. My dad’s a retired
New York City cop,” Tobin said last week. “To me, and a lot of members, it’s
very personal, and they don’t consider public safety as a union, they see it as
association.”

The Legislature passed a similar ban in 2011, but the bill exempted public
safety workers from the prohibition. A federal court threw out the ban.

In 2012, a measure that didn’t exempt public safety workers passed the Senate
but not the House.

Union leaders said lawmakers should devote their time to more worthwhile
causes.

“They are anti-union bills. That is all it is,” said Levi Bolton, executive
director of the Arizona Police Association. “It’s every year. They just keep
coming back.”

Many of the bills are backed by the conservative Goldwater Institute, which
filed a lawsuit last year over salaries paid to Phoenix police officers while
performing union duties.

Taylor Earl, a lawyer for the Arizona think tank, said bans on automatic
deductions force unions to do more for their members or risk declines in
membership.

“What we have seen across the country, when these are required, union
membership plummets,” Earl said. “Employees are evaluating, `do I really want
to be part of this union or not?”’

Missouri, Indiana, Kansas and California have all considered bans on union
deductions for public workers in recent years.

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Associated Press Writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.

___

Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva

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