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.