PHOENIX – Move over, Wisconsin. Stand aside, Ohio. Yield the field, Michigan. Arizona is the next big battleground in the national right-wing-big business war on workers, unions, and their rights and standard of living.

And Arizona unions, preparing for the struggle, launched a pre-emptive offensive against the right-wing machine last November.

Neither the state AFL-CIO’s efforts nor the special election recall loss in November of a key radical right ally, the GOP state senate president, stopped GOP Gov. Jan Brewer from introducing a package of anti-worker legislation that sometimes makes other Right Wing-influenced states look moderate.

The special election win, however, gives Arizona unionists hope they can beat Brewer’s schemes, at least at the polls this November, say two unionists, Joe Gosiger and Joseph Seelye, attending the Communications Workers of America Legislative-Political Conference in D.C.

That’s because unions and grassroots organizers seized on that triumph and the organizing leading up to it – organizing that successfully registered and mobilized new voters despite Arizona’s eight-year-old “voter ID” law – as a model for how to motivate voters, especially Spanish-speakers, and get them to the polls, the two told PAI.

Brewer presented her package to the strongly Republican state legislature on Feb. 1 for a state senate committee hearing. Among her proposals:

* Outlawing all state and local collective bargaining with unions representing public workers, on all topics. Even Wisconsin exempted fire fighters and police; Brewer didn’t. CWA, the Service Employees and the Fire Fighters represent many Arizonans.

* Banning checkoff of union dues, via automatic payroll deductions, from workers’ paychecks. The legislature approved Brewer’s dues checkoff ban last year, said Phoenix native Gosiger, the CWA District 7 rep.

But a state court judge bounced it as discriminatory because Brewer’s law said Fire Fighters and police could still use checkoff while others could not. So Brewer is now trying to ban checkoff for everyone. The Right Wing “went after the Fire Fighters and we got caught in the crossfire,” Seelye says.

* Banning compensation of public workers for time taken, as shop stewards or union officers, to handle such things as grievances, arbitration, or bargaining.

* Eliminating civil service protections for state workers in return for raises. “She proposed that if you’re willing to give up your civil service rights, you’d get a five percent raise,” while everyone else would suffer a wage freeze, explained Gosiger.

But since many of the state workers to whom Brewer offered the money bait were long-term veterans, they refused, Gosiger added. They didn’t want to be suddenly out of jobs at supervisors’ or politicians’ whims.

* A ban on accepting federal funds for construction projects if the contractors have signed a project labor agreement, guaranteeing worker rights and grievance procedures in return for a fixed price, wages, and construction schedules.

* Restrictions on rights to peaceably assemble and demonstrate.

Brewer was quite blunt about what she wanted to do. Last November, she told a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council – the right-wing business-funded cabal that produced model anti-worker measures used nationwide in the Right Wing’s war – that “business would not tolerate” limits state law puts on government’s power over its workers.

Brewer’s unveiling of her plan to the ALEC confab didn’t surprise Seelye, the Association of Flight Attendants government affairs committee chair from Tempe. He says much of the right-wing group’s leadership and ideas come from Arizona. “A lot of their anti-union, anti-labor, and voter suppression legislation took what we have in Arizona and tweaked it to make it even more repressive,” he explained.

Brewer unveiled most of her schemes at her ALEC session on Nov. 29, and the state fed launched a pre-emptive strike that day with a report showing the group’s influence in the state legislature.

“Corporate America sees an opportunity to severely weaken or eliminate unions and ALEC is working with conservative lawmakers in Arizona to make this happen,” Rebekah Friend, executive director and secretary-treasurer of the Arizona AFL-CIO, said then.

“The truth needs to be told about ALEC and its harmful impact on middle class working families in our state,” Friend added. The state fed and People for the American Way also released a report detailing ALEC’s secret influence in Arizona.

Cyndi Chacon, a bookkeeper and member of Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 30, after discussing several of Brewer’s proposals at the November press conference, added that: “Through shadowy organizations like ALEC, large corporations are using their vast financial resources and power to take political control of our democracy.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.