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Battle Over Collective Bargaining Coming to Arizona?

Is Arizona the next Wisconsin?

Lawmakers in the state are considering Republican-sponsored legislation that would ban government entities, including school districts, from engaging in collective bargaining. That's raised the hackles of a number of Arizona school organizations, among them a leading state teachers' union and a group representing school boards.

One proposal under consideration would forbid any state agency or political subdivision from recognizing any union as a bargaining unit, and says the state's Attorney General would enforce that provision.

Battles over union powers erupted last year in the Midwest, where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, and the state's GOP-controlled legislature approved legislation that dramatically curtailed collective bargaining for teachers and other public employees. That measure sparked large-scale demonstrations at the state capitol and prompted a series of recall elections, including an ongoing effort supported by Democrats to oust Walker from office.

In Ohio, a similiar law approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich also provoked an acrimonious fight. In November, voters overwhelmingly rejected that law, which had been placed on the ballot with the backing of teachers unions and other opponents.

Both Walker and Kasich argued that negotiations between local district officials and unions are tilted heavily in favor of labor organizations. They have said that their measures were necessary to prevent teachers' groups from negotiating into contracts costly provisions that have little, if any benefit, for students and taxpayers.

One organization opposed to the Arizona legislation is the Arizona School Boards Association, which worries that it would usurp local officials' authority over personnel and budgets.

The legislation undermines "local control," ASBA spokeswoman Tracey Benson said. "Our local school boards would be restricted in how they deal with their employees."

The Arizona Education Associationhas also voiced strong objections, saying a package of bills under consideration in the statehouse would "cripple that ability of teachers and other school employees to have a voice in decisions that impact their classrooms and schools."

"In Arizona, school districts voluntarily choose to meet with our local association leaders," Doug Kilgore, an AEA official, said in a statement. "Bargaining is not mandatory. School boards and administrators know they need an organized voice for teachers in the process to get decisions that create quality schools. Our voice on local budget issues helps ensure our taxpayers' money is spent in the classroom in ways that benefit kids."

Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion. But the odds of Arizona's legislation making it into law is unclear.

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, declined to comment in detail on the bargaining proposals, noting in an e-mail that the governor does not typically give her views on legislation that could change before it reaches her desk. He added that "it is fair to note that the union/collective bargaining measures were not drafted in coordination with the governor or her staff."

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