PHOENIX — Arizona isn't a bastion for the labor movement, and that was evident Tuesday as union activists gathered at the State Capitol to urge lawmakers to reject Republican bills on union activities and other issues.
About 200 people participated in the event, which was designed around having union members spend much of the day at the Capitol to buttonhole individual legislators.
The relatively low-key approach stands in contrast to the protests in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of people have rallied to oppose a bill restricting public employees' collective bargaining rights.
Arizona bills specifically related to unions include measures to restrict picketing and to require that unions get annual renewals from individual members to withhold dues money used for political purposes.
Other legislative issues of concern include bills to revamp public employee pension systems and prod local governments to privatize government services.
Rebekah Friend, the state AFL-CIO's executive director, said the Arizona legislation reflects an anti-union climate evident in many states.
"It's a difficult environment. I would say we don't have a lot of friends here," Friend said of the Legislature, where November's election gains gave Republicans two-thirds majorities in both chambers.
Especially troubling is the bill on dues withholding for political purposes, Friend said.
"The reality is that unions are a check on the corporations," she said. "This is political payback for the corporations that support them (Republican legislators)."
The sponsor of two Senate versions of the withholding legislation denied that it was politically motivated to weaken unions that typically support Democratic candidates over Republicans.
Workers who voluntarily belong to unions to have collective bargaining rights and get other benefits can find themselves at odds with their unions' political positions, said Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson.
"They are not happy. They believe that some of their dues are being diverted to support the opposition of their political philosophy," Antenori said. "All this does is give them choice every year — once a year. It gives them a choice."
United Transportation Union official Greg Hynes said requiring annual renewals for dues withholding for political purposes would be cumbersome because the railroad engineers and conductors his union represents don't work in one place and are often away from home.
Under the bill, "I've got to hunt them down every year to get them to sign up for something they've already agreed to," he said.
Hynes, who overheard a reporter's Senate lobby interview with Antenori, scoffed at the lawmaker's denial that politics are a motivation.
"They're going after our power, which in a state like Arizona, where Republicans have such a (large) majority, we hardly have a voice now," said Hynes, whose union represents 725 railroad workers in the state.