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Arizona lawmakers targeting public employee unions

PHOENIX -- Republican legislators are launching a push against Arizona public employee unions with bills that include a ban on collective bargaining with government workers, a change that would be felt in school districts and local governments.

A Senate committee is scheduled to consider the legislation Wednesday.

The Arizona legislation is being proposed in the wake of similar efforts by Republican lawmakers and governors in other states including Wisconsin, where political tumult arising from a near-elimination of collective bargaining for public employees prompted a recall drive against Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Arizona's state government does not engage in collective bargaining with its employees, so the impact of the proposed ban would fall on political subdivisions such as school districts and municipalities that elect to use collective bargaining.

Other pending bills would bar withholding money from a public employee's pay for union dues, prohibit a public employer from paying an employee for union activities, and broaden the current requirement enacted last year for annual authorizations by employees for paycheck deductions for political purposes.

The sponsor of the proposed collective bargaining ban, Sen. Rick Murphy, said taxpayers' costs from public employee contracts negotiated by unions for pay and benefits burden taxpayers.

``For people who claim the mantle of public servant I don't think it's appropriate to gang up on the people they serve to try to extract more out of them,'' the Peoria Republican said. ``It's finally at the tipping point where the demands have reached the point where people are starting to realize it's unsustainable.''

The president of a union representing teachers and other school employees said banning collective bargaining would shut down a system that allows employees and school districts to set mutual priorities agendas in good times and bad, including recent years that have seen funding cuts for schools ``The rhetoric that's coming from the proponents of this just gets it completely wrong,'' said Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill. ``There's a fundamental connection between working conditions and learning conditions.''

The Arizona legislation is being proposed in what appears to be a favorable political climate, with Democrats who traditionally support unions lacking the votes to stop Republican-backed measures.

``The Republican majority has established themselves to be very much anti-employee,'' said Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix. ``It's just another strike at those who choose to be public service employees. Their voice is not valued.''

Republicans hold big majorities in both legislative chambers, and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer soon after taking office in 2009 shut down a fledgling meet-and-confer process authorized by her predecessor, Democrat Janet Napolitano.

On a separate front, Brewer wants lawmakers to loosen the state government's civil service system to make it easier to fire state workers. She's proposing a 5 percent pay raise for workers but says current workers should generally get it only if they're already not covered by civil-service protections or voluntarily surrender that status.

The Wisconsin law doesn't allow negotiating with public employees' unions over anything except pay increases no greater than the rate of inflation.

Ohio voters last November overturned a law backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich to strip most public employee unions of collective bargaining rights.

Elsewhere, New Hampshire lawmakers are considering similar anti-union measures, including a ban on collective bargaining and on deducting dues from public employees' paychecks.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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