Editorial: State workers should not be allowed to unionize

Lawmakers in Carson City keep coming up with more ways to spend our money. Senate Bill 486, for example, would authorize state government workers to unionize and collectively bargain for salaries and benefits. Currently, state law allows local government workers to engage in collective bargaining but not employees of the state.

This has resulted in local government workers on average being paid more than state government employees. According to the most recent figures from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, local government workers average $1,130 a week in wages, while state workers average $1,093. In case you were wondering, the private sector taxpayers average only $922 a week.

But wages are not the most costly aspect of union contracts. The benefits add up, too. For example, both state and local public workers contribute to the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System. Currently 28 percent of a worker’s salary is contributed to cover the cost of pensions — half from the taxpayers and half from the employee. The figure for police and fire employees is 40 percent to account for often shorter working careers. But many local government unions have collectively bargained to have the taxpayers pickup all of the PERS contributions, effectively adding a hidden cost not seen in salaries alone.

Then there is the very real chance that, if the collective bargaining negotiations reach an impasse, the contract can be determined by an out-of-state arbitrator who has never paid a dime in Nevada taxes.

State workers for years have been poor mouthing their salaries during legislative sessions, whining about their poverty-level wages that fail to put food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children. We recall just a couple of years ago a tearful state employee telling the joint Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance subcommittee how she and her husband, both state employees, had their pay reduced by mandatory state furloughs during the recession. “I’m punished because I chose to get a job with the state, 30 years ago, believing that I’d have reasonable health coverage,” the AP quoted her as saying, adding she’s “having a harder time in my life than when I was single.”

We checked the pay of her and husband, a police officer, at the TransparentNevada site maintained by the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Their combined salaries and benefits totaled more than $160,000 a year. Collective bargaining is never a good deal for taxpayers.

None other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said in 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 …”Fortunately, thus far Gov. Brian Sandoval has expressed skepticism about AB486.

In a statement issued recently, Sandoval’s spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said the governor’s budget this session includes raises and additional funding for employee and retiree health benefits, with no additional employee retirement contributions.“SB486 would be a dramatic reversal of well-established public policy in Nevada,” St. Martin has told the press. “The governor and the Legislature have a constitutional responsibility to present a balanced budget and tying the hands of future administrations or legislatures with these agreements is not in the best interests of our state. For these reasons he will not support legislation that allows for collective bargaining for state employees.”Yes, Sandoval should veto this bill if it manages to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

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.