Thu, Dec. 05

Lawmakers tackle ballot issue on union organization

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday in hopes of quickly approving a ballot measure aimed at the ability of unions to organize.

The proposal seeks to add a provision to the Arizona Constitution guaranteeing that any election by workers to decide whether to form a union must be conducted by secret ballot. Committees in the House and Senate are scheduled to debate the measure in hearings this afternoon, with debate by both chambers on Tuesday and final roll-call votes Wednesday.

It is being pushed as a preemptive strike against the possibility the Democrat-controlled Congress will pass "card check' legislation.

Current labor law requires those who seek to unionize to get the signatures of a majority of affected workers. But all that does is authorize an election which either the union or the employer could demand be conducted by secret ballot.

A card check law would require the union be formed simply with the written consent of a majority of the workers.

Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute acknowledged the purpose of the amendment, which would go on the ballot as Proposition 113, is to try to keep unions out of some businesses.

"Card check, in my view, would dramatically increase private sector unionization in places like hamburger restaurants and other small business establishments where unionization could absolutely wreck the businesses,' he said. Bolick said an open system like this, could result in coercion by union organizers who know who does and does not want to organize.

Bolick said the proof that card check makes organizing easier is borne out by the fact that the unions are the ones lobbying for the change in federal law.

Less clear is what would happen if Congress approves card check and voters adopt the amendment.

Federal law generally preempts any state laws or constitutional amendments. But Bolick, an attorney, said it could be argued that states are entitled to provide a protected First Amendment right for their residents above and beyond federal law.

And even if that isn't the case, Bolick said public employees and agricultural workers are not subject to the National Labor Relations Act, meaning their elections would be subject to the secret ballot requirement regardless of federal law.

The Republican-controlled Legislature actually voted last year to put the issue on the November ballot. But a trial judge knocked it off because of the wording.

That original wording dealt not only with union elections but also guaranteed secret ballots for public elections.

An attorney for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 argued that extra verbiage was placed there as a ruse, noting public elections already are secret, to convince voters to support the more controversial union provision. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig said the legal issue is simpler than that: It's illegal to send constitutional changes to voters with more than one subject.

The idea of a special legislative session to fix the mistake -- and to alter the Arizona Constitution for something that is not yet federal law -- drew derision from legislative Democrats. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, called it "a complete and total waste of taxpayer dollars.'

She estimated it costs taxpayers $10,000 a day to have lawmakers in session. About half of that is the allowance lawmakers will get for being at the Capitol; the balance is staffing and even the cost of making copies of the proposal.

"If the governor's calling a special session she could be calling a special session to deal with how we create jobs or the fact that school started this week and that there are 40 kids in some kindergarten classrooms in our public schools, or the fact we still have a budget deficit,' said Sinema, the No. 2 ranking Democrat in the House. "Those are issues worth coming back to special session for.'

Gov. Jan Brewer supports the change.

The timing of the session timing is designed to meet a deadline set by Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

He said that's the last possible day he can put the proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot. And the state constitution can be amended only with voter approval.

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