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Thursday, 07 June 2012 21:04

Is Organized Labor Losing Control?

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Is Organized Labor Losing Control? Photo by Megan McCormick as displayed on Wikipedia

Unions face increasing opposition in Arizona. 

While Scott Walker was busy fighting recall efforts, and voters from San Diego and San Jose were deciding whether to reduce pension benefits for their local city workers, on Tuesday, an Arizona judge stepped into the organized labor debate with a ruling against release time.

Arizona is a 'right-to-work-state' which means that workers can not be forced to join a union in order to retain a job.The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NTRW) defines it as, "A Right to Work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. However, employees who work in the railway or airline industries are not protected by a Right to Work law, and employees who work on a federal enclave may not be."

In Arizona, the 'right-to-work' is established in the state Constitution, § 23-1302, from as far back as November, 1946, according to the NTRW website,"No person shall be denied the opportunity to obtain or retain employment because of non-membership in a labor organization..."

But that doesn't mean unions don't exist in Arizona. There are still unions for fire fighters, police, service industries and much more.

Arizona Legislators Tackle Organized Labor Provisions

During this year's session of the Legislature, attempts were made to curb union influence and control in the state of Arizona. Like Wisconsin, unions were a focus of desired reform in both the House and Senate.

Speaker of the House Andy Tobin responded to Tuesday's election results in Wisconsin, "I am thrilled that Gov Walker has won the recall race. Like Arizona, it takes a lot of courage to make tough choices. I supported his campaign and was honored to meet him earlier in the year in support of a major fund raiser for him.

"Here in Arizona we led the fight years ago when we passed a constitutional amendment to guarantee a Secret Ballot initiative to protect Arizona workers.

"We passed Pension Reform last year as well as the most sweeping State Employee Personnel Reform bill in Arizona history this year.

"The list goes on and on how the Arizona Republican majority has defended workers rights and pushed back against liberal power grabs in our state.

"Congrats to Gov Walker. See you in Tampa.


Release Time

Yet, not all the proposed legislation having to do with organized labor passed this year. Senate Bill 1486 passed in the Senate, but didn't advance through the House in the last session. That was a bill which would have prohibited public employers from compensating public employees for union related activities unrelated to their job duties, a practice known as release time.

But, what the Legislature didn't accomplish, a judge did, as part of a lawsuit brought by the Goldwater Institute.

On Tuesday, Maricopa Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled in a specific case brought by the Goldwater Institute regarding the City of Phoenix's practice of release time. In her ruling, Judge Cooper halted the practice, saying that the practice constitutes a subsidy.

Read the actual ruling by Judge Cooper.

Yesterday, the Senate Communications Advisor Mike Philipsen sent out a press release stating regarding the Judge's ruling:

"Judge blocks Phoenix police from paying officers for union work

"Sen. Murphy: Ruling shows SB 1486 was right idea

"(Phoenix, State Capitol)----A Maricopa Superior Court judge Tuesday ruled the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association can’t spend taxpayer money to pay officers for union work, instead of law enforcement duties. A contract agreed to by Phoenix and PLEA allows more than one million dollars to be spent for six police officers to do union work instead of traditional law enforcement.

"Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled the so-called release time is likely a violation of Arizona’s gift clause, because it is not for a public purpose, but instead serves the private interests of PLEA.

"Today’s ruling is vindication for Senate Bill 1486, sponsored by Senator Rick Murphy. That bill prohibited a public employer from compensating a public employee for non duty-related union activities. Instead of agreeing to reasonable restrictions, the unions gambled on an all-or-nothing approach, and with this ruling, they have nothing.

"'Judge Cooper made the proper decision, and we are going to see the end of release time in our state,' says Senator Murphy. 'Taxpayers expect our great men and women in blue to protect and serve, not lobby for legislation that benefits the union.'

"SB 1486 passed comfortably in the Senate in February, but died in the House of Representatives when House leadership blocked the bill from going to the floor."

Davis-Bacon Wages

Organized labor is also said to drive up costs on projects, through the practice of 'prevailing wages.'

Representative Paul Gosar has long been an advocate of repealing the Davis-Bacon requirements. "Instead of getting 4 bridges, you can get five," Gosar is fond of saying. But, what are Davis-Bacon wages, and how do they affect local communities?

The website, Advocacy and Public Policymaking offers an overview of prevailing wages, aka Davis-Bacon. Explaining the 1931 act, "The idea was roughly similar to a minimum wage, which was passed later in 1938 (and set the minimum wage at .25 cents an hour). The Davis-Bacon Act was narrower, implementing a minimum wage for workers on federally funded building projects."

" The prevailing wage on building projects is strongly influenced by the wages paid to union construction workers. This is a vitally important policy for unions as it makes it difficult for nonunion workers to compete with union workers on federally-supported projects," the overview continues. "National labor unions regard Davis-Bacon as sacred and are willing to do whatever they can to defend it against repeal or even encroachment. Without Davis-Bacon wages would fall. Unions reject the idea that Davis-Bacon is a problem because it raises wages artificially high and is inflationary."

Davis-Bacon wages are frequently mentioned during the Prescott City Council meetings when voting on a road project. If the project receives any sort of federal funding, it will likely require the contractor to pay Davis-Bacon wages, which are higher than wages typically paid by local employers. This causes the bids for the project to be considerably higher.

"Critics of Davis-Bacon believe it overstates the true average of pay at relevant work sites," states the Advocacy and Public Policymaking website.

The Cato Institute's states in a policy paper, "One glaring exception to the general rule favoring competition is 'prevailing wage' laws... Prevailing wage laws favor special interests by concentrating benefits and dispersing costs. They ought to be repealed."

Unions claim that prevailing wages bring stability to a project. When President Bush suspended Davis-Bacon wages in the aftermath of Katrina, unions rose in protest. On the South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL) website, an article titled, "Organized Labor Brings Home the Davis-Bacon", explains, "Congress has approved more than $62.3 billion to help rebuild the devastated area and profiteering companies like Halliburton, with cozy links to the Bush White House, have already gotten a big piece of the action. Without the prevailing wage law, it was a recipe for the legalized looting of reconstruction dollars.

"Had Bush’s order remained in effect, contractors would have been able to pay construction laborers less than the prevailing wage of $9.26 per hour, a wage already low in the largely nonunion Gulf Coast region."

Quoting AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, the article continues, "It was fundamentally wrong for the Bush Administration to hit workers when they’re down by slashing wages, exacerbating the very poverty that the hurricanes exposed... Workers deserve prevailing wage protections which guarantee a living wage, especially for work done with America’s tax dollars... Reinstating community wage standards will bring stability to the contracting process, so that contractors will have to compete on factors other than how low they can cut wages."

Gosar doesn't agree. In a companion editorial to this article, titled, "Addressing the New Realities of Labor Unions," he states, "This [Davis-Bacon wages] increases the cost to the taxpayer to benefit only a few."

Other Reading & Viewing

In the SF Weekly article, "The Worst-Run Big City in the US" Benjamin Wachs and Joe Eskenazi detail how union demands render program costs stratospherically expensive.

In the article, "IAFF President Comes to Prescott," Harold Schaitberger discusses the union stance on several issues. This article includes video of his speech.


Last modified on Thursday, 21 June 2012 18:21
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Prescott, Arizona

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