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Bill aims to clamp down on collective bargaining

Published February 2, 2012 11:48 am

Labor • Teachers' union rep says the bill is unnecessary.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After labor wars have ravaged the Capitols of Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, the first Utah bill to restrict collective bargaining has been introduced in Utah.

Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, would prohibit collective bargaining by employees of state and local governments on any issue other than wages and benefits.

That means things like professional training, discipline procedures, worker retention, and other issues would not be negotiated by the unions.

Grover, who is an administrator in the Alpine School District, said he wanted to go further with his bill, but decided his HB106 is a good first step.

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

Kory Holdaway, government relations director for the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said Grover's bill is completely unnecessary.

"We're a right-to-work state and it's not like we're holding a gun to the teachers' heads to join the association and hold districts hostage as far as benefits or salary or health care," said Holdaway.

But teachers are prepared to mobilize, as are other labor groups, to oppose the bill.

In addition to the 32,000-plus educators in the state, the bill could also affect thousands of firemen and police officers. However, because Utah is a right-to-work state, most public employees at the state, city and county level do not engage in formal collective bargaining.

"We've been preparing since July for this and so have the other labor groups — law enforcement and teachers — for the event a bill like this would be introduced," said Jack Tidrow, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Utah.

He said safety training, equipment, engine staffing and other items critical to firefighter safety are often worked out through a negotiation between departments and cities.

"Our job can be dangerous, but we put so many elements of safety into what and how we do things to make it as safe as possible, and the ability to negotiate [those] is huge for us."

Grover said that he has seen teachers with contracts who have too much job security and feel like they don't need to participate in student achievement efforts.

"Unfortunately, sometimes collective bargaining agreements will reflect stonewalling," said Grover.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, who is a labor consultant in the Davis School District, said Grover's bill is a solution in search of a problem. He said only six of the 40 districts in the state even have a formal written contract, but Grover's bill could also impede the consultation process that other districts use.

He said districts have worked out things like preparatory time for elementary school teachers who, unlike high school teachers, don't get free periods during the day. They've negotiated disciplinary procedures and training issues through negotiations.

"We're going back to the 1800s when management could dictate," said Briscoe. "This is just part of the management's attack on public employee unions."

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker faces a recall effort spearheaded by labor after trying to limit collective bargaining. Similar efforts to clamp down on unions have been pushed in Ohio, South Carolina, Indiana and Michigan.

"It's really a policy issue. What are we doing here in Utah? It's a right-to-work state. One, should we allow collective bargaining and two, if we do allow it, what should we allow?" Grover said.