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.
Associated Press Writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.
Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva