Las Vegas Sun

June 30, 2015

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Sides far apart on taxes, collective bargaining

CARSON CITY — Democratic lawmakers want to raise taxes. Republicans say there will be no deal unless there are long-term reforms to reduce government overhead by cutting public employee benefits and making changes to collective bargaining.

Democrats say Republicans and their allies in business are asking for the moon. Republicans say Democrats are offering nothing substantial to warrant compromising their principles by voting for tax increases.

Both sides accuse the other of not negotiating in good faith.

Such was the standoff in the state capital Tuesday as Democrats circulated a plan, obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, that opened negotiations between the parties.

The document listed the reforms Democrats would agree to if Republicans support a tax increase.

Key among them is collective bargaining, the process followed by counties, cities and school districts to negotiate contracts with employee unions.

Republicans and business groups, such as the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, say collective bargaining is broken. The result: Nevada has some of the highest-paid local government workers in the country, while having among the fewest public employees per capita.

Democrats propose some minor changes but point out that collective bargaining has had no direct impact on the state budget deficit. None of the workers directly employed by the state has the right to collectively bargain.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the state’s 200,000-member labor union, said the Republican demands for changes to collective bargaining before supporting a tax package amount to “extortion.”

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and Assembly Republicans said Nevadans’ tax money would be saved in the long run with these reforms, a necessary precursor to taxes.

(Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, referred questions to Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. Oceguera would not comment Tuesday before a Republican response.)

So who has the more convincing argument at this point?

The changes to collective bargaining proposed by Democrats would:

• Allow either management or labor to request a potential mediator. Current law requires both parties to agree. Mediators are not binding.

• Change how new contracts are reported by local governments and school districts. In 2009, Democrats agreed that contracts had to be voted on at a public hearing. This would add to the transparency.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the Democrats’ reforms don’t go far enough. Many of the items Democrats are touting were passed by the Legislature in 2009. Republicans, he said, were working on a response to the Democrats’ plan.

Former Las Vegas Chamber Chairman Steve Hill said the business group — which has been beating the drum on collective bargaining for three years and has become a virtual proxy lobby on this issue for Republican lawmakers — was looking for more substantive changes.

What they have in mind is something similar to legislation proposed last week by a chamber lobbyist.

The three points in his amendment to Senate Bill 89 are:

• Eliminate binding arbitration, and have final contract provisions voted on by elected officials. (When management and an employee union reach an impasse, it can go to binding arbitration. In those cases, an arbitrator sides with either management or employees.)

What the union says:

In the 1960s, local government employees gave up the right to strike. If arbitration is eliminated and there’s no right to strike, there will be stalemates. “There will be no finality, no solution,” Thompson said. If binding arbitration is taken away, he said unions should be allowed to strike.

Plus, he said, employees lose at arbitration more than they win.

What the chamber says:

Arbitrators should not replace the judgment of elected officials.

“Voters elected people to represent them. The (elected leaders) should make the decisions,” Hill said. “The employees don’t have to agree with the decision.”

Stalemates would end “by the elected officials making a choice,” Hill said. “That’s exactly what the state does.”

• Require contracts to open automatically if revenue for a local government falls 5 percent or more for two years.

What the union says:

Unions are already making concessions.

Some unions are in the third round of concessions, Thompson said. Many bargaining units have reopened contracts and agreed to reduce pay.

“The fact of the matter is that the economy already dictates these contracts,” Thompson said. “I don’t see where that’s needed.”

What the chamber says:

Hill said some unions have made concessions, while others haven’t. The amount they have conceded has also varied widely.

“I don’t want to diminish concessions on an individual basis. We understand and appreciate people making concessions,” Hill said. “But not, in all cases, have the concessions been very significant.”

• Prohibit supervisors from collectively bargaining.

What the union says:

Certain personnel, such as lieutenants, have responsibilities of a supervisor but not the power to hire or fire like other bosses, Thompson said. That means they should have the protection that the union offers.

What the chamber says:

Having management unionize “creates a conflict of interest,” Hill said.

“If you have managers out managing folks, you need to know they have complete obligation to only represent the people they work for and are managing for,” Hill said. “Now when they belong to a union, they’re managing their brothers.”

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