Published Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015 | 11:12 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015 | 12:30 p.m.
Republicans are attacking working families with their proposals to upend collective bargaining in Nevada, Danny Thompson, executive vice treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO, said at a press conference this morning.
Thompson’s words come as some state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval aim to weaken collective bargaining for local government employees as part of reforming the state’s bottom-tier public education system.
Republicans have submitted four bill drafts to kill collective bargaining as it’s currently written in law. Last week, in a letter distributed to local governments, Assembly Speaker-designate John Hambrick vowed to reform bargaining.
The letter said Republicans are “committed to reforming state law in a way that returns to you the power your communities have entrusted you with” and “provide you the tools to make any changes to the current collective bargaining system as you deem necessary.”
The debate surrounding collective bargaining is sure to spark intense divisions during the upcoming legislative session and will likely foreshadow a strong union presence in the 2016 campaign cycle if collective bargaining is changed in law.
Thompson, whose organization represents 200,000 union employees, rebuked Hambrick and Assembly Republicans for their proposals.
“How is this going to help the state of Nevada: It’s not,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the AFL-CIO will have an unprecedented lobbying force in Carson City and will campaign in districts represented by lawmakers supporting reform.
“I want to put every public official in the state on notice today,” Thompson said. “The 200,000 people we represent aren’t going to stand on the sidelines.”
State employees can’t unionize, but teachers and other local employees can.
Those who join at the local level can use collective bargaining to negotiate pay raises, benefits, working conditions and other issues. Local governments must submit to collective bargaining negotiations. The new legislation would likely give governments the opportunity to bypass them.
For decades, Republicans have panned the current practice as too costly for public schools. Republicans will take control of both legislative chambers for the first time since 1985 when the session begins on Feb. 2. Their rhetoric and draft bills signal they’re confident reform laws will land on Sandoval’s desk.
Along with collective bargaining reform, Sandoval wants to raise $882 million in taxes and fees to pay for new and existing education programs. Unions support the efforts to raise new funds but say it shouldn’t be done at the expense of collective bargaining.
Larry Griffith, Teamsters Local 14 secretary treasurer, said any measures to hinder collective bargaining will affect the livelihoods of union members.
“These people are coming after you because they believe you make too much money,” he said.
The libertarian think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute is leading the charge to weaken collective bargaining laws, saying that compensation for local government employees unfairly exceeds private sector workers.
“Contrary to Danny Thompson’s rhetoric, most local government employees receive pay and benefits that far exceed what the average family makes,” Victor Joecks, executive vice president of NPRI, said.
He used the city of Henderson as an example. Full-time workers employed by Henderson from 2011 to 2013 saw their annual total compensation increase from an average of $117,487 to $123,560, a 5.2 percent increase, he said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Henderson dropped from $67,617 in 2007 to $61,404 in 2012, a decrease of 9.2 percent, Joecks said.
“Collective bargaining reforms are needed to bring government employee compensation in line with private sector wages,” he said. “Elected officials who have the courage to propose collective bargaining reforms are the real champions of working families.”