Las Vegas Sun

May 7, 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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  1. Those harmed by the refusal of the Chamber to support revenue reform are students, the needy and the ill. Who of course have nothing to do with local government collective bargaining rights.

    But even if one accepts the the Chambers' insistence on viewing public services solely in terms of those who deliver services rather than those who benefit from them, then they are still targeting precisely those whom they ought to be supporting. After all, there is no collective bargaining for state public service workers, and health coverage for state public service workers and their families have been cut significantly already and converted into a catastrophic-coverage-only, high deductible health plan.

    Even more self-defeating is the Chambers' vocal support for higher education -- where all the changes that the Chamber and the Governor are seeking have been standard procedures for decades and even more efficiencies and streamlining has been carried out already in the past few years. <http://nevadafacultyalliance.wildapricot...>.

    The Higher Education budget that will be closed today is a good opportunity for the Chamber to put, as it were, its mouth where its money is. It has voiced strong support for both higher education as a value to society and for the way higher education does business. Now it is time to support adequate state investment to support it, without which reforms and economic development will be irremdiably harmed.

  2. Republicans will not be happy until they've made serfs of every decent, hard-working middle-class American.

    This whole "reform" push is a SMOKESCREEN, KIDS!!!

    "Reform" refers only to STRIPPING AMERICANS of their right to collectively represent themselves in the workplace, and to break the unions so the TeaNuts can have more $$$ to spend on their own folly.
    Ya folla?

  3. I think the republicans are doing the right thing. There is nothing truly on the dems table they are just saying it is...look at what they have already passed. Increases with no cuts. Gimmie gimmie gimmie.

  4. People working for the government and receiving government checks should not be allow to hold an elected position and vote on employment contracts. There should be a blackout period for such individuals, 2 years prior serving and 2 years after serving as an elected.

  5. I like that Rick. I think thats a fantastic idea.

  6. What Justin, Rick, and the other Republicans refuse to recognize is this fact, "...collective bargaining has had no direct impact on the state budget deficit. "

    Game. Set. Match. Republican lawmakers are not pushing to restrict the Constitutional right for people to assemble and collectively bargain in order to save money; they are doing this to take away rights and make it easier for foreign mining corporations to make even more money and punish Nevada's working families. If you agree that Nevada's working families need protection from the elected officials that the Chamber of Commerce supports, call 1-800-978-2878 and tell your legislator to dump the Governor's budget!

  7. We have a massive deficit, which has to be addressed.

    Revenues - expenses = a huge negative number.

    Let's start with some basic steps that can dramatically alter the deficit:

    * Across the board freeze in every department of the state exceptions
    * 18-month headcount freeze across all departments, resulting in (through attrition -- not firings) a reduction in overall spending
    * Freezing of all pensions related to state employees and the initiation of market-equivalent benefit programs -- pay something toward your healthcare and you contribute to a 401(k) plan with the state matching your contribution....this is the standard in the private sector

    This isn't a Democrat vs. Republican issue. This is a tension between PRIVATE vs. PUBLIC Employment.

    And the perverse irony is that people in the private sector -- who through their taxes are paying for everyone who is a state civil servant employee -- don't themselves enjoy any of the benefits that State employees now enjoy and keep for life after they've retired (at a comparatively younger age, as well).

    Governor Sandoval and the Republicans in the Nevada legislature need to address this inequity.

    Why should there be any discussion of revenue increases until the above inequities are addressed? It makes sense for a state civil servant to not pay a single dime for his/her healthcare? Why? Because some stupid prior Governor and legislature bestowed this in a contract? Contracts can be fixed, amended and modified. Pensions can be frozen and/or terminated (go have a look at what was done at Ford and GM!).

    This is pretty basic stuff if the people representing Nevadans in Carson City have the courage to fix the problems. It's math. And it's third grade math.

  8. MAKE OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS DO THEIR JOB. Unions advocate for their members. Elected Officials are supposed to advocate for us, the taxpayers.

    WHY IS AN ARBITRATOR REQUIRED? Answer: So our elected officials don't have to do their jobs and so they have 'cover' in case the salaries and benefits awarded are something the public disagrees with. Then the officials can say: The arbitrator did it!

    Make the elected officials make the decision about salary and benefits. If voters don't like the decision, vote the officials out of office.