JOHN NICHOLS: How Scott Walker and ALEC plotted the attack on Arizona's Unions

February 3, 2012
John Nichols

Two days after Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor John Kasich’s anti-labor agenda by a sixty-one to thirty-nine margin in a statewide referendum, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker jetted to Arizona to launch the next front in the national campaign to attack union rights.

After meeting with former Vice President Dan Quayle, Walker was whisked over to the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, where he briefed a thousand Arizona conservatives on how they could attack “the big-government union bosses.”

“We need to make big, fundamental, permanent structural changes. It’s why we did what we did in Wisconsin,” declared Walker, who at the annual dinner of the right-wing Goldwater Institute said that compromising with unions was “bogus.”

Comparing governors who have been attacking the collective-bargaining rights of public employees with the founders of the American experiment—“just like that group that gathered in Philadelphia”—Walker told his listeners: “We need to have leaders not just in Wisconsin but here in Arizona…”

If anyone missed the point, Walker said: “Tonight, you might say I’m preaching to the choir with a bunch of fellow conservatives.… I preach to the choir because I want the choir to sing. So tonight I’m asking you to sing. Tell the message in Arizona and all across America that we can do things better.”

The crowd was listening.

This week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer—fresh from pointing her finger in the face of President Obama—and her allies in the Republican-controlled state legislature announced that they would try to outdo the anti-labor initiatives of Walker and Wisconsin’s Republican legislators.

And they did so in conjunction with the very people Walker has consulted with, spoken to and urged on in November: The Goldwater Institute.

Indeed, as Arizona’s anti-labor initiative was launched, the Goldwater Institute’s website featured an image of 2011 protests at the state Capitol in Madison and a headline that read: “Bigger Than Wisconsin? Reforming Government Unions Will Save Taxpayers Billions.”

But the Goldwater Institute is not proposing reforms. Documents linked to the “Bigger Than Wisconsin?” headline outline plans to “[ban] government sector unions from collective bargaining and entering into collectively bargained contracts.” Indeed, they suggest, “Statistical analysis shows that if states prohibited all forms of collective bargaining, they could reap a total of nearly $50 billion in savings for state and local taxpayers across the country.”

Even if the argument were valid, its totalitarian premise begs the question: How much more money could be saved by taking away other human rights.

But, urged on by Walker, Arizona Republicans are putting those questions aside and racing to implement a militant anti-labor agenda modeled on legislation enacted last year in Wisconsin—and promoted by national groups such as the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC’s model legislation, recealed by the joint Nation/Center for Media & Democracy project “ALEC Exposed,” provides conservative legislators in the states with preapproved bills and resolutions for attacks on collection bargaining in particular and organized labor in general. And the group has worked closely with Brewer and many Arizona legislators, including recently oused Arizona Senate President Russell Pierce.

Indeed, Brewer began outlining the Arizona plan at an ALEC meeting in December, when she declared her intention to “reform the state’s personnel system” in order to make it easier to hire and fire public employees

That inspired speculation about Brewer wanting to be “the Scott Walker of the West.”

In fact, Brewer and her allies are, as the Goldwater Institute suggests, going even further than Walker did.

The legislation introduced by the governor’s allies in the state Senate would, according to the Arizona Republic:

—Make it illegal for government bodies to collectively bargain with employee groups. Public safety unions would be included in the ban.

—End the practice of automatic payroll deductions for union dues. 

—Ban compensation of public employees for union work.

 

“Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law enacted last year made unions effectively irrelevant by limiting issues that could be bargained by a government and an employee group. Arizona’s bills would do away with collective bargaining entirely and also go beyond Wisconsin law by including public safety unions,” the newspaper explained. “Coupled with Gov. Jan Brewer’s plan to do away with civil-service protections for state employees, the new legislation could make Arizona ground zero for union protests during this election year.” 

That was a fair assessment. “In Arizona, we believe that the political will exists to do even more comprehensive reform,” the Goldwater Institute's Nick Dranias said. “The environment, the climate that we face in Arizona is much more receptive to these kinds of reforms than Wisconsin is.”

With that in mind, Brewer and her allies are rushing to pass the anti-labor legislation—just as Walker’s allies did in Wisconsin.

Arizona is a so-called “right to work” state, where protections for private-sector workers are weaker, and Republican legislative majorities in Arizona are bigger. Both those factors may make Brewer’s work easier than Walker’s in Wisconsin.

But, for all the talk of how Arizona is “more receptive” to assaults on collective-bargaining rights than Wisconsin, the states have one thing in common.

Like Wisconsin, Arizona allows for the recall of the governor and members of the state legislature. Indeed, Arizonans recently used that power to vote Republican Senate President Russell Pierce, the architect of the state’s draconian anti-immigrant legislation, out of office.

In Wisconsin, more than one million voters have signed petitions supporting the recall and removal of Walker. Another 850,000 have signed petitions to recall and remove his lieutenant governor. And close to 100,000 more signatures were on petitions to recall and remove the Republican state Senate majority leader and three key legislative allies of Walker.

Just as Walker guided Arizona conservatives toward a more militantly anti-labor agenda even than that of Wisconsin, so the coalition of labor, farm and community activists that has formed the Wisconsin recall movement can guide their Arizona compatriots toward a proper response. If Brewer and her legislative allies persist in trying to out-Walker Scott Walker, then Arizona progressives may find that they too will spell relief: R-E-C-A-L-L.