Utah Newest Front In GOP Battle Against Unions

February 9, 2012 1:07 am

Republicans in Utah have opened up the next front in a battle against public unions being waged in statehouses throughout the nation.

A bill introduced last week in the Utah legislature would ban government employees from collectively bargaining on any issue except for wages and health benefits. The proposal would bar unions from having a say in things like training, equipment and disciplinary procedures.The bill echoes similar measures that Republicans have advanced in the past year in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, which have all seen pitched fights over the role of unions.

Last year in Wisconsin, restrictions on collective bargaining led to massive protests at the Capitol and a Democratic effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Now in Utah, Democrats are gearing up for their own skirmish.

“People are going to fight it tooth and nail,” Democratic state Rep. Brian King told TPM on Wednesday. “It’s our little version of Scott Walker.”

Utah’s measure was introduced by Republican Rep. Keith Grover, who did not return a call seeking comment. However, he denied during an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune last week that he was influenced by what was happening in other states.

“It just comes from my personal experience,” Grover told the newspaper. “I will probably not be successful in convincing anybody that this has nothing to do with the national trends.”

But King disagreed. He told TPM the measure is a classic example of Utah politics: Conservatives saw an issue catching fire in another part of the nation and wanted to bring it home.

“We see a parade passing by, whether it’s in Wisconsin or it’s in Indiana, and we say ‘Listen, we want to be a part of that parade’,” King said.

Utah is already a right to work state, which means unions have pretty limited role in government. But the labor organizations still get a seat at the table to discuss pay, benefits and working conditions.

The Utah bill has some things in common with a broader series of measures currently making their way through the Arizona legislature and believed to be the most sweeping in the nation. Both affect public unions at the city, county and state levels. And neither provides an exemption for public safety unions like for police and firefighters.

King said the Utah bill has a good chance of passing since Republicans have dominant control over both the state House and Senate. But he said there’s also the possibility that some of the state’s moderate Republicans will join their Democratic colleagues to block the measure.

King hopes the moderates will recognize that governments in the state already have a lot of power when it comes to dealing with workers.

“There’s really no need for this,” he said. “It’s just sort of piling on.”

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