Judge rules Prop. 108 illegal

PHOENIX -- A ballot measure designed to make it harder for unions to organize was crafted in an illegal fashion and cannot appear on the November ballot, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig said Proposition 108 actually contains two separate subjects. One seeks to constitutionally guarantee a right to a secret ballot in public elections; the other would guarantee the same right in elections by employees at a business in deciding whether to organize.

"The topics ... are not sufficiently or logically related to one another,' the judge ruled.

Oberbillig did not say why he thought state lawmakers, who crafted the measure at the behest of an anti-union group, put the two issues together.

But Andrew Kahn, attorney for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union 99, which challenged the measure, said backers of the measure wanted to cobble the popular idea of secret ballots for regular elections, which the judge noted is already required in the state constitution, to the more controversial measure dealing with unions.

Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who is representing supporters of Proposition 108, said an appeal will be filed with the Arizona Supreme Court.

The measure is a direct response by business groups to a possible change in federal labor law.

Employees who want to form a union now have to gather the signatures of a majority of affected employees to force an election. When those elections fail, unions sometimes argue that employers put too much pressure on workers.

Unions are pushing Congress to amend the law to permit a "card check' system where gathering signatures of half the affected workers automatically creates a union. Business interests argue that creates an opportunity for union organizers to coerce workers to sign.

With federal legislation pending -- and business groups unable to marshal the votes to kill it -- union foes organized Save Our Secret Ballot to push for constitutional provisions in various states that would essentially make card-check provisions inapplicable. Backers here, led by congressional hopeful Sydney Hay, convinced lawmakers last year to put that question to Arizona voters this November.

Oberbillig said that would not be a problem if that were the only issue on the ballot. He said, though, that tying it to public elections violates constitutional provisions which require that amendments sent to voters for approval deal with only one subject.

The judge said the two issues are clearly unrelated to each other, with neither half -- the public elections or the union elections -- being dependent upon or affecting the other half.

Bolick said he believes the state's high court will accept his argument that there is a common purpose behind both halves: to guarantee a secret ballot in any election overseen by the government. He pointed out that union elections are regulated by federal labor law.

The judge also rejected a separate legal argument by an attorney for the Legislature that the union waited too long to challenge the wording of the ballot measure. Peter Gentala noted the union did not file suit until 10 months after legislators voted put the measure on the ballot.

But Oberbillig said that delay caused no harm to supporters of Proposition 108 to make their case.

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