PHOENIX - This week, the Senate is likely to vote on a slew of proposals that would fundamentally weaken public employee unions in Arizona. The proposals have quickly advanced since their introduction about two weeks ago and there are indications they will be brought to the Senate floor for a debate soon.
The proposals appear to have the full backing of the Senate leadership, and Senate President Steve Pierce told me he believes they will easily win approval in his chamber. Though he said he initially thought the bills would be tweaked and maybe only one would pass, he said it's clear that everybody is "fired up" about them. "People (who) I had no idea would support them are supporting them, so I think they're rolling ahead," Pierce said.
Sen. Rick Murphy, who sponsored the majority of the anti-union proposals, said amendments might be offered on the Senate floor although the changes may not completely satisfy the unions. Murphy. R-Peoria, met with union representatives last Thursday. He said they had a good discussion. "(But) did the meeting give me a reason to drop the bills completely? No," he said.
The proposal that is most threatening to public unions would eliminate their ability to collectively bargain. Another proposal would prohibit compensation for public employees while they're doing union work. The third and fourth proposals both deal with paycheck deductions for union dues. The less stringent of the two would prohibit automatic salary deductions for union dues unless an employee expressly authorizes it each year.
Supporters say the measures would save the state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars and eliminate unions' unfair advantage over regular citizens in influencing policy. They also argue that unions have accumulated great powers that allow them to pressure public officials to enact policies that favor them.
But critics say the proposals are politically driven and point to supporters' complaint that unions favor Democratic candidates in elections. They said the measures would also take away a tool that local governments have successfully used to secure a good relationship with public workers.