In June of 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ruled 5-4 that it is unconstitutional to require public-sector employees to pay union dues, saying they have a fundamental First Amendment right to not be compelled to support union systems states and local governments adopt.
The court thus overruled a 1997 decision that said public employees who declined to join a union still could be required to pay a fee to cover only the cost of collective bargaining that determined their pay and benefits, but not be required to pay dues that covered other expenses such as political activity.
But Nevada law makes unions the “exclusive bargaining agents” for all the government employees covered by the designated union. While the public employee may now opt out of paying dues, his or her pay and benefits are determined by the union contract.
Until the legislative session earlier this year, only local governments were required to bargain with unions. Senate Bill 135 now gives state public workers the right to unionize. Not a single Republican voted for SB135, only union-backed Democrats. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the bill into law even though a study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimated unionization of state workers could in two decades increase costs as much as $1.75 billion a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.
As Michael Schaus, the communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, points out in a recent article even those public workers who decline to join a union and pay dues are still bound by whatever contract the union negotiates, denying them the freedom to represent themselves.
“Take for example an employee who already has adequate health insurance offered through her spouse’s job,” Schaus writes. “Shouldn’t she be able to ask her government employer for a small increase in pay in exchange for refusing health coverage? Or maybe another worker would rather have a few more vacation days than a scheduled pay raise — should he not have the right, as most workers have in the private sector, to work out a compromise with his employer?”
Schaus notes this leaves the union member feeling shortchanged because the non-dues-paying worker gets the benefit of the negotiated contract, while the non-union members are denied the right to negotiate for their own best interests.
His solution? Workers’ Choice — a policy allowing workers to opt-out of the union entirely and negotiate based upon their own needs and desires.
“Additionally, this monopoly power granted to unions goes even further in damaging the rights of workers to freely associate (or dissociate) with a union,” argues Schaus. “It prohibits the ability for workers to seek out any alternative representation, giving the controlling union virtually no market incentives to increase the value members receive from their dues.”
Nevada lawmakers could easily rectify this problem by excising the language in the law giving government unions “exclusive” bargaining rights.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.