Bill would alter Nevada gov't.-worker bargaining

A package of amendments added Friday to a collective bargaining bill would change the rules of how government workers negotiate their contracts.

The four-part proposal presented to the Assembly Government Affairs Committee would give governments the right to renegotiate contracts if revenues drop, make changes to the mediation process, make renegotiated contracts retroactive, and bar supervisors from collective bargaining.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said the amendment is a collection of other reform measures, some of which failed earlier in the legislative session.

Hardy's bill, SB98, would allow governments to renegotiate contract provisions such as automatic pay increases if revenues drop by 5 percent over a two-year period. Supporters say flexibility is essential for cities and counties to weather fiscal crises.

Trey Abney of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce told lawmakers that financial commitments such as pay increases force municipalities to lay off employees so they can meet their contractual obligations in tough economic times.

"It is not a realistic model or realistic way of doing things," he said.

Employees could be asked to modify their contracts without the change in law, Abney said, but "we shouldn't have to beg the employees who work for us to take the necessary steps."

The amendments discussed Friday also propose using locally elected officials instead of third-party mediators in employee-government arbitration.

Samuel McMullen, who represented the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said an elected official would bring an essential holistic view to negotiations because they would see disputes within the context of a city or county's needs. That would translate into better decisions for the community, he said.

McMullen and Abney also said elected officials are more accountable than third parties because they are local and live in the community.

Rusty McCallister, representing Professional Firefighters of Nevada, said the disinterested third party is what U.S. court system is based upon and accountability is built-in.

"Those contracts don't get approved without the vote of local government officials," he said.

The amendment also would make any renegotiated contractual clauses retroactive. But the language will need to be clarified because as written, the proposal could force employees who take a pay cut to return money from previous paychecks.

The amendment also would bar supervisors from participating in collective bargaining. But more work needs to be done on the bill because some unions have supervisors as members.


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