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Utah Dems warn of push to erode public employee unions

Published December 5, 2011 11:12 am

Politics • They warn that Sen. Howard Stephenson has pending bills that target collective bargaining.
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State lawmakers carrying anti-collective-bargaining legislation are simply "water boys" for corporations with an ultimate goal to privatize services ranging from garbage pickup to firefighters, Democrats charged at a meeting Saturday.

Jan Johnson, executive director of the Utah Alliance of Government Employees, told a crowd of about 130 gathered at the Red Lion Hotel that the American Legislative Exchange Council provides corporations with access to lawmakers by charging the companies fees upward of $750,000 "depending on what they want to buy."

In the case of state Sen. Howard Stephenson — an ALEC member — she said he has two pieces of legislation pending for the 2012 legislative session that would seek to undermine collective bargaining for public employees.

"ALEC is an insidious little group," Johnson said.

Jim Judd, president of the Utah AFL-CIO, said attempts to destroy collective bargaining have been going on for a while, but said there was "a right-wing overreach" in places like Ohio in November. That was where Ohio Gov. John Kasich — one of the originating members of ALEC in 1982 while a member of Congress — pushed a law creating sweeping changes ranging from the prohibition of public employee strikes to revising procedures on unfair labor practices. The law was repealed by voters in November by a 61-39 percent margin.

Judd said the public was beginning to see who public employees are.

"They are your neighbor," Judd said. "They're the person who picks up your garbage, responds to your house in an emergency and, most importantly, is the schoolteacher or the aide who helps my handicapped granddaughter when she goes to school every day."

Stephenson and ALEC did not return calls for comment.

But Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who has been a member of the ALEC governing board for the past four years and a general member since 2001, said he doesn't believe total privatization and elimination of collective bargaining are the endgame for the organization.

"I think if I were to describe the positions taken, it should be an approach where the private sector thrives, it should provide those services where appropriate," Bramble said. "And government should provide services where appropriate. But 'where appropriate' is the key phrase."

He said there is "a lot of crying wolf from both sides" of the aisle and noted that the current national chairman of ALEC, Noble Ellington of Louisiana, is a Democrat. However, Ellington was a Democrat up until December 2010 when he crossed the political aisle and became a Republican to give the Louisiana GOP its first Statehouse majority since the Reconstruction era.

The previous national chairman for ALEC was Texas Rep. Tom Craddick, also a Republican.

While the Democrats were blasting ALEC — which will hold its annual meeting in Salt Lake City in 2012 — they were also urging people to run for office in Utah to try to restore a balance of power in a state that is tilted heavily toward the GOP.

Democratic State Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said he was traveling to Washington next week to talk to U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, about his political plans because "a lot of candidates are waiting to see what he decides."

Two candidates at the Women's Democratic Club of Utah who have already decided to run were in attendance — Sens. Ben McAdams and Ross Romero, both D-Salt Lake City. Both are candidates for Salt Lake County mayor. That race has created some tension within the Senate Democratic Caucus. Dabakis, acutely aware of the tension, used the opportunity to crack wise at the microphone.

"I'll take this opportunity to announce I'm running for county mayor," he joked to waves of laughter.

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero






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