Union supporters look to repeal Right-to-Work status in AZ; attorney explains what that would look like

Arizona Works Together coalition looking to eliminate Right to Work status in Arizona, giving Unions more negotiating power. A local Tucson attorney explains what that would mean for both Employers and Employees.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 6:03 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - With labor unions flexing their muscle with strikes and in some cases, winning, some in the Grand Canyon state are working to make unions even stronger in Arizona. An effort is underway to repeal Arizona’s designation as a right-to-work state. These laws essentially prohibit employers from forcing employees to join unions or pay dues to be hired at their company.

If taken away, unions could have more negotiating power and a leg up in bargaining agreements with employers.

Unions say a change in these laws would help protect workers, but those against the change say it would harm worker rights. This has spurned a debate on whether this decision is in the best interest of the employees or the unions.

“We are in a new labor movement. And it is time for Arizona workers to secure fair laws for fair pay.”

That is the sentiment provided to 13 News by the Campaign Coordinator for Arizona Work Together, Robert Nichols. Arizona Works Together is a coalition of organizations looking to empower unions. As they say, in a right-to-work state like Arizona, the ability of unions to negotiate on behalf of the employees the represent is limited because of the amount of dues they receive.

“It’s just an efficiency of funding issue for the unions. What can they spend money on? Do they have to cover non-union members?” Nichols said.

The ability to fund these unions through dues is something lawyers say is crucial when at the negotiating table.

“With the unions, they need dues paid so they can represent the employees in grievance procedures [and] in negotiating for better contracts,” Employment attorney Barney Holtzman said.

With the success and increase in union strikes across the nation, including in Arizona at Sky Harbor Airport, in hospitality industries and the cannabis industry across the state, many say unions are the path to better working conditions.

“Union growth in America has been tied to higher wages, better benefits, safer workplaces, and more money in the pockets of the middle class,” Nichols said.

It’s art of the reason groups like Arizona working together are looking to do away with those laws.

But, as Holtzman points out, there’s always two sides to the discussion and while getting rid of the laws may be in the best interest of Unions, some employers may disagree.

“Unions want this law taken away so that they can get more funding from the employees that they’re representing. Employers generally don’t want the laws because they want their employees to be able to choose, ‘Do I want to join that union’?

Critics of the Grassroots movement say without the law they will be forced into unions or to pay dues. But Nichols says that’s not the case.

“If the employer who has made an agreement with the union decides to pass the cost of that agreement on to non-union workers, that’s a fault of the employer, not a fault of the union.”

This idea is gaining momentum in Arizona but still has a long way to go due to the law being within the statutes of the state constitution.

“They have to not only change the statute, they have to change the constitution, which is a higher standard and it takes more votes,” Holtzman said.

However, activists say it will be worth it for the benefit of all employees.

“All workers will see benefits improve all workers across sectors, regardless of whether they’re in or out of unions,” Nichols said.

In recent months, states like Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin have all repealed their status as right-to-work states.

However, changing that in Arizona will take 350,000 signatures just to be put on the 2024 election ballot and also require large support in the Arizona Senate and House.

Arizona Works Together plans to launch its signature campaign at the end of October.

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