Another session coming to an end without real collective bargaining reform

Tell me again why we elected all those Republicans. You know, the ones who promised collective bargaining reform and public employee pension changes that would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

So far the changes have been cosmetic at best.

Assembly Bill 280, which would have allowed local government to opt out of collective bargaining, hasn’t been heard from since April.

Assembly Bill 190, to reform PERS, is probably buried.

In his State of the State speech Gov. Brian Sandoval mentioned collective bargaining several times, but he has been AWOL ever since.

He also said, “We must also consider Sensible reform to the Public Employee Retirement System and the way we pay state employees.” Since then, crickets.

Brian Sandoval at State of State speech (AP photo)

Victor Joecks of NPRI notes that only minor changes have advanced on collective bargaining, such as Senate Bill 241. “When you first read look at SB241, it sounds like it’s a substantive reform, but when you examine the details, you’ll find it makes only cosmetic changes,” he writes.

Conservative activist Chuck Muth compares it to Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown year, after year, after year. It is apt. After all, he used the same comparison in 2011.

Fooled again.



Editorial: Let local governments opt out of collective bargaining

While it seems most of the legislation coursing through the halls of the Legislature in Carson City seeks to tap deeper into taxpayers’ wallets, one might actually reduce the cost of local government by allowing local counties, cities and school boards to end collective bargaining with public employee unions.

Assembly Bill 280, sponsored by Assemblyman Erven Nelson, a Las Vegas Republican, authorizes local governments to choose not to negotiate with an employee union and ends the requirement for binding arbitration that has proven so costly to many local governments and school districts.

Nelson testified recently about his bill, saying it will allow elected officials to regain control over the cost of government by allowing them to set the rate of salaries and benefits during public meetings in front of the taxpayers, instead of in secret negotiations. He noted this is how the state government works, because it does not allow its employees to unionize.

If a local government does agree to collective bargaining, AB280 would not allow any pay or benefit increases after a contract expires and before a new agreement is finalized.

Erven Nelson

Nelson pointed out that during the recent recession a number of government employees lost their jobs and services to taxpayers were cut because unions would not agree to reductions in pay and benefits. He added union requirements that layoffs be based on seniority instead of merit often resulted in better and lower paid employees being laid off.

“By providing another alternative to the governing body, jobs can be saved and services to the public can be retained,” Nelson testified.

“We should not be talking about raising taxes so long as government employees make more than the taxpayers who fund their salaries.” Nelson continued. “Government spending would fall by approximately $300 per resident if Nevada makes collective bargaining optional for local government employees and if they implement those changes. Limiting collective bargaining has worked well for Wisconsin. The state closed its budget deficit and realized enough savings to cut taxes as well.”

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen also testified in favor of the bill, saying his county has 400 public employee union members whose salaries and benefits have become unsustainable. “In the past 10 years, the county’s assessed valuation has declined by nearly $600 million and the opportunity to generate revenue from other sources have been either insignificant or not available to us,” Schinhofen said. Today total employee compensation consumes 80 percent of the county budget.

He said AB280 would allow the county to regain control of its spending on services for its 48,000 residents.

Former Storey County Commissioner Greg “Bum” Hess argued that in small counties with volatile revenue streams the governing body needs flexibility to set public employee pay rather than be bound by a collective bargaining contract.

“This bill, as you know, would not outlaw collective bargaining; it would merely empower each local government body to choose for itself whether or not to engage in the collective-bargaining process,” testified Nevada Policy Research Institute President Andy Matthews. “This is important because it would give citizens a much stronger voice in how local fiscal affairs are conducted. If the residents of Elko or Reno or Las Vegas think that their local government employees ought to be able to negotiate under collective bargaining laws, then they can vote to elect officials who will implement that policy. Residents who feel otherwise can vote for candidates who pledge to do the opposite.”

Of course, a number of public employee union representatives testified against the bill, saying it would make it more difficult for local governments to recruit quality employees. They also said unions have been willing to reopen contracts and negotiate pay reductions.

What is being proposed for the cities, counties and school boards currently works for the state, which is able to hire suitable employees at a pay scale with which both employer and employee agree.

We fully support and call for passage of AB280 to allow local governments to take control of their budgets for the benefit of taxpayers and not be forced to cede control of budgets to out-of-state arbitrators who don’t have to live with the result of their decisions.

A version of this editorial appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record.

Proposals to reform collective bargaining are ‘modest’ at best


And you thought you’d elected Republicans to the state Legislature.

The headline in today’s print edition of the Las Vegas newspaper called the bill drafts targeting collective bargaining reform “modest,” which is an overstatement. They are milquetoast.

(Since there are at least four bill drafts on this topic, the headline online simply made not sense at all: “Will Sandoval use the bill to achieve collective bargaining reform?”)

According to the story, one bill would make collective bargaining talks subject to the state open meeting law, while another would require any contracts negotiated in secret, as they all are, to be made available to the public before being voted on by elected officials. Another would better define what constitutes a fiscal emergency allowing contracts to be reopened.

The strongest one comes from Reno Republican Assemblyman Randy Kirner. It would exclude supervisors from public union organizing and prohibit the use of tax money to pay the salaries of employees doing union work. It also would require final contract offers to be revealed to the public.

But Kirner was quoted as being less than ardent about challenging the cost of collective bargaining: “Speaking for myself, we don’t want to destroy the collective bargaining process. But we think there should be some changes, some reforms made. That’s the track I am personally going down.”

Apparently there is not bill draft to end collective bargaining or even to end binding arbitration that so often ends up favoring the unions.

We repeat the words of progressive icon and friend of labor Franklin D. Roosevelt from a 1937 letter:

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

Las Vegas Democrat state Sen. Tick Segerblom promised to fight any reforms of public employee unions “tooth and nail.”

The governor has said he wants collective bargaining reform, but he hasn’t said what that entails.


Local governments could save millions if freed from collective bargaining restrictions

One of the biggest costs at just about every level of local government across the state of Nevada is personnel. Over the years our lawmakers have made it difficult to control those costs by making public employee union collective bargaining practically a mandate.

Ending public employee unions entirely would be our first option, but short of that there are several steps that could be taken in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature.

First, end binding arbitration. Under current law the local elected officials make a union contract offer and the union makes its own demands. If the two sides reach an impasse, which is too often the case in this post-recession, tight-money period, some out-of-state paid arbitrator who has never paid a dime in Nevada taxes and never will be affected by his or her decision decides which of the two final offers to impose.

The arbitrator is not allowed to compromise between the two positions and frequently sides with higher union wage demands simply because the city or county or school district can “afford” it, whether it is fair and competitive with the private sector or not.

Eliminating binding arbitration could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Second, make the process transparent. Nevada Revised Statute 288 specifically states union negotiations or even informal discussions do not have to be open to the public. So they never are.

This means that the voters and taxpayers are left entirely in the dark and have no inkling as to whether their representative is fighting for their hard-earned money or rolling over for a belly scratch by public union officials who can provide cash and manpower come re-election time.

Private employers have the threat of being able to close up shop and go out of business. Public employers have no such option with which to bargain

Such negotiations should open to the public under open meetings laws every step of the way, right down to the final public vote.

Lawmakers could cut and paste language from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model bill on this topic:

“Labor negotiations between government and government employees are an extension of the people’s business. … Since those negotiations deal with the public employer and public employees, taxpayers have a vested interest in the proceedings. … Taxpayers deserve to observe, monitor, and even participate in the processes by which public contracts are negotiated and awarded.”

Third, public employee unions should collect their dues from their members and not have the government go to the trouble and expense of cutting a check to the unions for members’ dues. This makes the cost of union membership more obvious for the workers.

Finally, the public employees should be required periodically to vote on which union, if any, is to represent them in collective bargaining. Perhaps more than a few public employees would rather stand on their own merits and compete for pay and benefits rather than settle for the same pay as union-protected laggards.

None other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointed out in a 1937 letter the problem with collective bargaining for public employees:

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

We demand our lawmakers put each of these suggestions to a vote, especially ending public employee unions entirely, so the voters can see who is really representing them come next Election Day.