Unions want judge to void 2 new Arizona laws - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Unions want judge to void 2 new Arizona laws

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Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 5:34 pm

Calling the measures illegal, public and private unions want a federal judge to void two new laws they say interfere with the rights of their members.

SB 1363, which takes effect July 20, imposes new restrictions on when and where unions can picket. Attorneys for the unions say that violates their rights of free speech and assembly.

A separate law, SB 1365, will require unions to get specific authorization from each worker, on an annual basis, for any payroll deductions for political purposes. The lawsuit says that interferes with the contracts that unions have with their members.

The unions want Judge Susan Bolton to bar the state from enforcing either law.

But Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, the sponsor of both measures, said they are both necessary and legal.

Antenori also disputed claims about how broad is the scope of the new restrictions on picketing. But he said if the state has gone beyond its authority, a judge will rule that way and the law can be fixed next year.

SB 1363 is the broader of the measures.

There already are some existing laws that limit picketing. But Antenori said they are ineffective.

For example, he said it is often difficult for companies to keep picketers off private property. This law allows a company to file legal papers ahead of time spelling out where their property lines are and, by extension, giving police clear authority to remove anyone who crosses that.

But what is causing a stir is that some of the restrictions would appear to affect those who are protesting on public sidewalks.

For example, one provision makes it illegal to picket in any way to “coerce or induce’’ an employer into joining a union.

Marcus Osborn, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the intent is not to bar “a healthy debate’’ about whether a company should unionize. He said this is aimed at more “aggressive’’ tactics.

Potentially more troubling from the unions’ perspective is another provision outlawing “mass assembly.’’

Some of that includes blocking entrances to work sites and public roads. But it also makes it illegal to “assemble other than in a reasonable and peaceful manner.’’

The union attorneys said some of the picketing they do now might be considered “unreasonable’’ by some, ranging from raised voices or noisemakers, or where certain words are used like “scab’’ to describe a strikebreaker.

“Such provision is likely to have a chilling effect on any assembly of workers as workers would have no way of knowing what a judge would consider ‘unreasonable’ in assembling,’’ the lawsuit states.

“You might have a point there,’’ Antenori conceded.

“But it’s up to the discretion of a judge,’’ he said. And Antenori said there already are court rulings defining what is and is not reasonable.

What is not reasonable, Antenori said, are pickets which defame or libel a company, perhaps saying it is using unfit meat for its products. He said that kind of picketing needs to be stopped.

Antenori acknowledged there are already laws that allow someone who has been defamed to sue. But he said that process can take too much time. And in the interim, a company’s business can be ruined.

The issue of union dues goes to Antenori’s contention that union members are being improperly forced to contribute to causes in which they might not believe. He said that requiring unions to get annual approval for payroll deductions ensures that members get better control of how their unions are spending their funds to influence elections.

But Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the measure is all about politics.

He pointed out that Arizona is a “right to work’’ state, meaning no one can be forced to join a union. He said people join the AEA because they support the organization’s goals.

“This bill attempts to quiet the voices of Arizona’s educators as they speak up for their profession, their students and for public education,’’ he said in a prepared statement.

The state has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit. No date has been set for a hearing.

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