Unions are at the heart of political change in Arizona

In May, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey enacted Bill SB 1268, an anti-union bill critics say violates federal law and the Constitution – shooting organized labor as Arizona Republicans seek to retain power ahead of the 2022 midterm election.

The surprise victory of President Joe Biden in the general election in Arizona – who had only voted for a Democrat twice since the Roosevelt presidency, most recently Bill Clinton in 1996 – sent a national signal that the traditionally conservative state is in. changing. With a very slim Republican majority in the state legislature and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey limited to reelection in 2022, Arizona Democrats appear poised to achieve something they haven’t had. since 1966: tripartite state control.

But anti-union bills like SB 1268 and new voter restrictions, confirmed by the Supreme Court in a blow to the law on voting rights, complicates the Democratic path to power. SB 1268, which was challenged in Arizona Federal District Court by the Arizona AFL-CIO and United Food Commercial Workers Local 99, is an unusual attack on the industry’s workforce private. In addition to imposing binding disclosure requirements under penalty of perjury, it stipulates that employees can opt out of union-negotiated benefit plans and negotiate directly with their employers.

According to Arizona AFL-CIO President James McLaughlin, who is also president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99, the state’s largest union, this is illegal and unconstitutional.

“It’s an attack on a lot of things,” said McLaughlin. “It’s an attack on the idea that states cannot compel employers to provide a certain level of employee benefits, which is a critical part of ERISA. [Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974] concept, it is an attack on the idea that a contract is a contract, including collective agreements, and it is an attack on the idea that the union is the exclusive representative and can negotiate on behalf of the employees.

McLaughlin says bills like SB 1268 are rare because they are so clearly unconstitutional; generally, republican legislation on private sector unions is limited to so-called “right to work” laws. But even though rejection of the bill in federal court seems likely – SB 1268 legislates on matters preempted by federal laws such as the National Labor Relations Act – the Arizona AFL-CIO is concerned that enforcement of state law and the resulting problems could cause a headache for organized workers. 14 months before a crucial midterm election.

“There are all kinds of warrants out there even though the law is clearly unconstitutional,” McLaughlin said. Some of the mandatory disclosure requirements, McLaughlin says, are absurd, requiring unions to report the amount paid by and paid to health plan members – something he says makes no sense in assessing the Health Insurance. “This throws a major ape wrench into the workings of employers, unions and compensation funds.”

Republican interest in introducing the suppression of voters, electoral audits, and costly distractions for workers like SB 1268 – and the Democratic interest in strengthening work, exemplified by several bills introduced since January that address a list of union priorities – is no surprise. Arizona educators and education unions have demonstrated 2018 statewide walkouts as part of the national wave of education strikes; Arizona ranks last for median teacher salary. Statewide strikes led to a rally in Phoenix with more than 50,000 educators and supporters, and secured hundreds of millions of dollars for an increase in education wages. Their momentum continued with a Democratic victory in the November election, with former teacher Kathy Hoffman defeating the incumbent Republican superintendent of public education.

Educators are not alone. Unions and organized workers have played a key role over the years, moving Arizona from a state with America’s most notorious sheriff to a state where a Democratic breakthrough seems likely. Community groups and unions embarked on Arizona’s long process of change, starting with the “Adios Arpaio” campaign to defeat Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2012. At the time, UNITE HERE called him the start of organize a new Arizona.

Since then, unions have targeted Phoenix municipal politics, and the Republican majorities in the state legislature have gradually shrunk to a one-seat difference in the two chambers. Many candidates are unionized themselves, showing that unions don’t just support candidates, they run their own. Phoenix City Councilor Betty Guardado, first elected in 2018, was a hotel cleaner and a member of UNITE HERE Local 11. Other state legislative candidates, such as Arizona Education member Christine Marsh Association and Athena Salman, member of UNITE HERE, are also from trade unions.

Some activists, like Marisela Mares, a 23-year-old activist from UNITE HERE Local 11, have been instrumental in shaping Arizona politics from the start. Marisela, a former Arizona State University caterer who was laid off at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, now works as a community organizer for Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy. She first got involved in political life at the age of 14 in the “Adios Arpaio” campaign, and has since been involved through her union.

According to Mares, a key part of her motivation was experiencing an immigration and customs raid on her home while she was in college. “They were looking for my grandfather, even though he had already kicked out because of SB 1070,” she said. “It was quite a traumatic event for me, and for so long, it shaped my view of the world.”

“By the time I got to high school, I heard about this opportunity [to organize against Arpaio] and I just had to jump on it. Getting involved through the union — UNITE HERE Local 11 was heavily involved in organizing against Arpaio — made sense. “I had seen how much difference it made in my father’s life for him to be a union member.

For Mares, all of these different struggles – immigrant justice, workplace justice, and evolving Arizona politics – all overlap. “As working class people, as immigrants, as young people and for myself as a queer person, the system is rigged against me,” she says. “As a child I was on the picket lines and learned how the boss inside these workplaces really is like people like Arpaio and like. [Governor] Jan Brewer.

Mares was part of UNITE HERE’s recent efforts to knock on doors in a massive election campaign targeting key battlefield states like Arizona. Over 500 UNITE HERE members and volunteers have knocked on doors in Arizona. For her, talking to voters wasn’t just about elections – at times, it was sympathizing with the Arizonans hit hard by the pandemic. “The people we were talking to were in a similar situation to me,” Mares said. “[They were] unemployed, afraid of the pandemic, afraid of catching the Covid, and had even lost people.

Their efforts paid off. According to UNITE HERE, they knocked on 800,000 doors in Arizona and had 250,000 conversations with voters. Biden won the state with just 11,000 more votes than Donald Trump. But it also offered people something more, according to Mares: hope. “Just talking about the vote and the power it holds has given people a lot of hope. ”

The organization has built the political capacity of the work; Arizona’s UNITE HERE members traveled to Georgia to secure Senate victories for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Despite legislative attacks like SB 1268, unions are likely to play a key role in the 2022 elections and, if successful, could secure rare extensions of labor rights in a historically hostile state. After gaining control of Virginia, Democrats enacted key labor reforms such as draft labor agreements and the legalization of collective bargaining in the public sector.

This could prove to be critical in 2022, and Mares is hopeful that she and other union members are part of a political earthquake. She wants to see a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature when the dust settles. “They are passing these laws that take away our freedom to vote and even make it more difficult to organize with SB 1268,” Mares says. “But we know that creating grassroots campaigns, talking to one person at a time, appeals to the community. ”

She hopes it will make a difference. “We know the winning strategy and we will continue, [and] even if the rules have changed, we will teach our communities how to get around them.

If political control in Arizona changes despite legislative attacks like SB 1268, there is no doubt that it will be due to years of work transcending the boundaries of community organizing, labor organizing, and political work. This work has been done by activists like Mares alongside union teachers, housekeepers, grocery store workers and community organizers. She says the ballot box and the picket line are connected, citing an organizing campaign at Tempe Mission Palms as one of her motivations to keep fighting.

“It was the first time I saw women working, you know, moms, abuelitas, really put their lives in danger and go on strike, fast and participate in civil disobedience to fight for what is right, ”says Mares. “It inspired me not only to fight politically, but to fight the boss.”


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