PHOENIX — State lawmakers launched a broad attack today against public unions, including an absolute ban on state and local governments and school districts from bargaining with organizations that represent public workers.
The party line vote in the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Government Reform came after extensive testimony by the anti-union Goldwater Institute.
Steve Slivinski, lobbying on behalf of SB 1485, told lawmakers that just eliminating collective bargaining alone could save Arizona taxpayers $550 million a year within seven years.
Slivinski based that on figures which show union workers make more than those in the private sector. And he said that in Virginia, which abolished collective bargaining years ago, public employees now make less than those in private industry.
But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said all that is a smoke screen.
``At the end of the day, this bill is about union busting,'' he said.
The 4-2 vote for SB 1485 vote came despite testimony from several union officials who pointed out that, technically speaking, Arizona has no collective bargaining. And public employee strikes are illegal.
Instead, various levels of government have ``meet and confer'' agreements, which include not only issues of salary and benefits but working conditions.
Jennifer Loredo of the Arizona Education Association, told lawmakers that, for teachers, these talks include preparation time, class size and supplies. All of that, she said, helps create better schools.
There was similar testimony from Mike Colletto representing the Professional Firefighters of Arizona.
But Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute said if this all really benefits the public in the long run, there is no need for the private negotiations that now take place.
``It is obvious they're not engaging in these negotiations so that they can achieve cost savings or have whistle blowers address problems in government,'' he said. ``This is a secret negotiation conducted by a labor cartel protected by laws that compel the government employer to bargain with them until they're happy.''
Three other anti-union measures passed by the same 4-2 margin, including:
• Barring cities and counties from paying release time to workers who are actually doing union business;
• Requiring unions to obtain annual authorization for payroll deductions for dues;
• A more far-reaching version to ban payroll deductions entirely.
Read more on this Thursday in the Arizona Daily Star and on StarNet.