The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute (GI) announced Tuesday it had sent letters to the cities of Phoenix and Tempe, demanding the governmental bodies to change allegedly unconstitutional labor union practices that keep employees trapped paying dues.
“We think it is critically important for government employers to respect public employees’ constitutional rights. Under the U.S. and Arizona constitutions, no one can be forced to remain a member of—or make payments to—any private organization, particularly if it engages in speech or political activity the person disagrees with. Unions are no exception, and cities should not be making deals to trap public employees into being union members or paying union dues,” said GI Staff Attorney Parker Jackson in a statement emailed to The Arizona Sun Times.
Jackson penned both letters, and the one sent to Phoenix alleged the problem partially lies in the city code. Under Phoenix City Code Section 2-214, public employees have the right to “form, join and participate” in any labor union or not to join them. Section D of the code states these labor unions can take periodic membership dues from an employee’s paycheck as long as the employee authorizes the deduction. However, an employee can only revoke this deduction during the first weeks of January and July each year. Jackson argued this policy traps employees into paying union dues unless that employee acts within the small biannual opt-out period.
Additionally, Jackson wrote that the city entered into memorandums of understanding (MOU) with seven labor organizations, and six of them mirrored the city’s exit policy. The singular outlier was the Administrative, Supervisory Professional & Technical Employees Association (ASPTEA), as the MOU states that employees could revoke the deduction “at any time during the year.”
As discussed in the 2006 case, AFSCME Local 2384 v. City of Phoenix, government entities cannot require that any person participates in a union under Arizona law. Therefore, Jackson alleged that the city code is unconstitutional and requested the city revoke and revise the code and MOUs and ensure that no other unconstitutional policies be present in future agreements.
A spokesperson for the city of Phoenix told The Sun Times that the city’s attorneys have received the letter but could provide no information beyond that.
As for Tempe, Jackson alleged that there is a problem with the city’s MOU with the United Arizona Employee Association (UAEA). Specifically, the MOU states that all non-supervisory city employees who become UAEA members must remain members for at least one year. Moreover, they can only withdraw their authorization for union dues deductions for 30 days following their enrollment anniversary. The employee must also get UAEA authorization before the withdrawals can stop.
However, in the MOU, the city did write that it “assumes no liability on account of any action taken” under the MOU. Yet, Jackson wrote that Tempe “cannot immunize itself from constitutional requirements in MOUs.” Therefore, like with Phoenix, Jackson requested Tempe revise the MOU and refrain from making similar agreements in the future.
A Tempe spokesperson told The Sun Times the city has received the letter and is currently reviewing it.
Moreover, Jackson told The Sun Times that any employee trapped in paying union dues should contact the GI. He also said he hoped the cities would agree to the terms without the need for legal action.
Moreover, the GI contacted the Tucson Unified School District regarding a similar issue in January. Jackson stated the GI had not received a response from the district yet.
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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Parker Jackson” by Parker Jackson. Background Photo “Tempe Municipal Court” by City of Tempe.