Public Sector Union Bills

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Arizona State Lawmakers are considering several bills that limit the power of labor unions for public sector employees, including police and firefighters. The sponsor of the bills, Republican Senator Rick Murphy, and Democratic Senator David Lujan debate the legislation.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Tucson lawmaker who succeeded Gabrielle Giffords in the state senate after Giffords was elected to Congress is now looking to succeed Jose Herrera Capitol Hill. State senator Paula Aboud of Tucson says she will run for Congressional District 2. That newly drawn southern Arizona district contains Cochise County and most of Pima County including areas that are now part of CD 8, Giffords' former district. A special election takes place this spring to elect someone to complete the remainder of Giffords' term in CD 8. Her former aide Ron Barber has announced he is running in that election. Senator Aboud will face Representative Mark Heinz and perhaps others.

Ted Simons: State lawmakers are considering bills that put new restrictions on labor unions for government employees. The bills would ban collective bargaining and automatic payroll deductions for union dues and stop local governments from compensating employees for union works. Joining me now is the sponsor of the bill, Senator Rick Murphy, a Republican from Peoria, and Senator David Lujan, a Democrat opposing the measures. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Let's get started with why you're sponsoring most of these bills.

Sen. Rick Murphy: There's four bills which cover similar topics and have some overlap. I'm sponsoring three of the four bills. Essentially it seems like with all the budget problems that we've had the last few years, both nationally and at the state level, even at the city level, we've reached a tipping point where it's become clear that the amount of government that we have and the cost of that government is not sustainable. And it seems as though the unions, the government worker unions have a disproportionate amount of influence compared with the taxpayer when it comes to setting those budgets, setting the work rules, etc.

Ted Simons: Why do you think it's a bad idea, these bills?

Sen. David Lujan: I think it's unfortunate. A time we should be trying to prop up middle class families, we have these bills that are brought on by the Tea Party Republicans that are really trying to take away their voice in government. And the people who are affected by these, these are taxpayers as well, firefighters, law enforcement, our teachers. And they deserve to have a voice in government and these bills are essentially taken away -- taking away that voice.

Sen. Rick Murphy: First of all, they still have a voice, that's ridiculous. But also to try to say this is a war on the middle class or anything like that is ridiculous. The vast majority of the middle class is not in a union at all, much less in a government union. And secondly, when we talk about teachers and firefighters and police, the reality is we have more government workers that don't do those jobs that do do those jobs. So those are brought out because they're more sympathetic, but there's a lot of other folks involved as well.

Ted Simons: The idea of saving state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars, talk to us about that and why that's not necessarily a good idea the way it's being proposed.

Sen. David Lujan: I think it's really deceiving. These employee unions do save money. It's interesting, in committee when we heard these bills, not a single city said we need these bills. They find this in contrary they find these a useful management tool in order to effectively deal with employee associations and make sure they are getting the best bang for their buck. I would also say these employee organizations are very effective in weeding out waste in government. If you have a manager, for example, that is misspending public funds, who's more likely to speak out than the workers who are working under that person every day, and they have that protection through these employee unions.

Ted Simons: Helping foster good relationships with public workers is mentioned as a management tool. The idea of this tool, collective bargaining with unions, is a good way to get that relationship going, get the communication going, just make for an easier way to deal with things.

Sen. Rick Murphy: If only that were so. It's not a balanced relationship, that's the problem. You've got folks who help elect their bosses, first of all, and then they come and they sit at the bargaining table to negotiate. And the taxpayers on the other hand who also had a hand in electing those leaders, they don't have anybody who is speaking just for them at the bargaining table. It's just not a balanced playing field and it ends up tilting in favor of workers and favorable work rules and favorable pay and bonuses -- pay and benefits and pensions to the taxpayers' detriment.

Ted Simons: Unfair edge over citizens in terms of pull at city halls, with supervisors, at the state house. Valid argument?

Sen. David Lujan: No. Not at all. Who are we dealing with? We're talking about our law enforcement, firefighters, first responders, these are people who put their lives on the line for us every day. And they choose to use their hard-earned dollars to have these associations represent them whether it's before their employer or in front of public bodies. Because they recognize they can do an effective job of representing their interests. So I think when you're talking about workers and having a voice in government, these employee associations are very useful for these workers.

Sen. Rick Murphy: Well, except that what's come out in the hearings is that they're not only using their own money. For example, when employees, when government employees are doing work on the taxpayer dollar, called release time, they're not paid by the unions to do this, they are given time off of their regular job where they're still receiving a regular paycheck to do this. And the testimony in committee was that overall compensation for the entire class of employees is reduced to make up for that time, but that means that time is being subsidized by the nonmembers who are also in that same group of workers.

Ted Simons: Why compensate someone for doing union work on the job?

Sen. David Lujan: Because it's effectively saving those government entities money. For example, going back to law enforcement, let's say an officer is involved in a shooting or incident, there's a lot of administrative hearings that go along with being in law enforcement, being a firefighter. And so this gives them that representative to go up against their employer and a lot of times those representatives are people that are on release time. So they're doing work on behalf of the taxpayers, they're doing work to make sure that that officer, that firefighter that their rights are being protected.

Sen. Rick Murphy: Well, in the case of officers, that's a unique situation. There's not really an --

Sen. David Lujan: But they're included in this bill.

Sen. Rick Murphy: And I've been in talks them and I've assured the local law enforcement folks, if they're doing a job such as representing somebody who's been involved in a complaint or incident, and they are bringing an independent perspective to that discussion, then I'm certainly willing to work with them on that. But the vast majority of the release time is not something that is, you know, as noble sounding as that.

Sen. David Lujan: Release time could be a teacher representing employees and making sure that if there's a bad teacher, they're effectively working with the school district to weed that teacher out so the district doesn't have to spend taxpayer dollars going through a litigation.

Ted Simons: Is that happening?

Sen. David Lujan: It does happen. As a member of a school board I saw many instances where the teacher representative who was on release time helped to negotiate with the district to get bad employees out and to save the school district money.

Ted Simons: Critics of what you're doing say that they understand what you're doing, but you're taking the wrong approach and you're possibly doing more harm than good with this particular approach. How do you respond to that?

Sen. Rick Murphy: Most of the people making that claim are the people who benefit from the status quo. The reality is, the people in charge of government unions have power and they don't want to give that up. It's really not about what's best for the taxpayer. I was on a school board too and I have -- I know in my experience getting rid of bad teachers was very difficult and most of the time the unions made excuses for it.

Ted Simons: I think there's some that are not necessarily involved in this fight, but look at it from both sides of the aisle and say this is not necessarily the kind of fight that cities, towns, the state needs to pick right now.

Sen. Rick Murphy: Sometimes there's not a good time, but do you what you think is right, and it just so happened this is one I happen to be chairman of the government reform committee and it seemed like as good a time as any.

Ted Simons: The idea that something needs to be done, between pension and compensation, there's arguments that the public workers and unions are getting paid more than the same kinds of workers, I know that goes back and forth as well. That's something needs to be done, why not this?

Sen. David Lujan: Because this isn't a problem. Nobody, no city, no town, no government body has come to the legislature and said, we need to have these types of reforms. I think where you might see is in pensions, and we've had pension reform at the legislature last year, but time and time again, government managers have said the collective bargaining and the public employee unions are a benefit to them. What this is, is the Tea Party Republicans being upset with the unions having too much power, you have Senator Murphy who sponsored this legislation, yet since 2005 he's taken over close to $2,000 in money from the same employee unions for his campaigns.

Ted Simons: Talk about that.

Sen. Rick Murphy: Well, first of all, that's a small percentage of all contributions I've ever had, number one. Number two, the reality is, they have a disproportionate influence, and the fact nobody that they negotiate with has concerns about it is kind of making my point for me. They have too cozy of a relationship, there's not enough balance, the taxpayers don't have enough voice, and when you have the city of Phoenix raising food taxes by when was it, 12 or 14 million dollars, and having a similar amount of money that was paid out in retention bonuses when people are having a hard time finding a job to begin with, that just sounds to me as though we've got a problem.

Ted Simons: Last word --

Sen. David Lujan: Some of the things I've seen employee unions come to the legislature and testify about is more funding for bulletproof vests, more funding for fire engines and fire equipment. These are organizations that are protecting our public service employees, our first responders, our teachers, at a time when we should be propping up these middle class workers, we're trying to tear them down and I don't think it's the solution.

Ted Simons: Good discussion, thank you both for being here.

Sen. Rick Murphy:(R); Sen. David Lujan:(D);

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