Gibbons proposes bill to repeal collective bargaining |

Gibbons proposes bill to repeal collective bargaining

Gov. Jim Gibbons has introduced legislation to repeal mandatory collective bargaining by local governments and school districts in Nevada.

Collective bargaining has been widely blamed for driving up salaries of local government employees – particularly police, firemen and teachers. Except for a few provisions, the measure SB41 would repeal all the mandates in NRS288.

The problem of local government salaries came to light during this recession as the public discovered that many municipal and county workers were making more than $200,000 a year and getting raises even while many in the private sector were seeing no raises or being laid off.

Gov. Jim Gibbons’ assistant chief of staff Stacy Woodbury, who helped develop the legislation, said many local governments have almost 85 percent of their budget tied up in salaries, with no recourse for making adjustments.

Local government employee associations, however, say completely repealing the law would be overkill. They argued that, if there are problems with the existing statutes, lawmakers and the governor-elect should work with union officials to fix them.

Gibbons earlier proposed a ballot initiative to open collective bargaining negotiations to the public to “shine a light” on how those negotiations are conducted.

“We’ve been watching the frustrations and difficulties local governments have had during these trying budget times,” Woodbury said.

She emphasized that, since state workers are not covered by NRS288, the state receives no direct benefit from the proposed repeal.

She said the purpose is to give local governments and school districts “some control over their own destiny.”

Steve Robinson, who is assisting the Gibbons administration in shutting down while helping Brian Sandoval’s team prepare to take over next month, said Gibbons told him that, every time he asked local officials for some help with the state’s budget situation, “the answer would be (NRS) 288.”

He said business leaders have told him the same thing, that there must be some changes to the collective bargaining law.

Existing law requires local governments to bargain with employee organizations over salaries, benefits and other factors. It also provides for mediation in certain cases and binding arbitration if all other attempts to reach agreement fail. In return, it prohibits state and local government workers from going on strike.

SB41 repeals all those provisions except the anti-strike provision and the provision that says local government employees are allowed, but cannot be forced, to join a union.

It also adds new language saying the recognition of employee organizations and engaging in collective bargaining negotiations are allowed, but not mandatory.

If passed, it would take effect at the end of fiscal 2012.

Woodbury said as Gibbons leaves office, she is hopeful Sandoval will take up the bill. Robinson said the governor-elect is looking at the issue but hasn’t decided what he will do.

Cindy Gower of the Carson City Employees Association said the capital’s workers have made concessions, including giving up cost of living adjustments and merit raises.

“We don’t feel we’re abusing the collective bargaining process,” she said. “Every time the city has come to us to work out concessions that are fair for budget purposes, we’ve worked cooperatively with them.”

Repealing collective bargaining, she said would amount to “throwing out the baby with the bath water.”

Carla Fells of the Washoe County Employees Association also said repealing collective bargaining is too drastic.

“If there are issues with the system, we’re hoping the governor and Legislature just fixes them,” she said.

She said Washoe employees have been working with the county.

“We’ve given up wage increases the last two years in a row.”

She said if there are problem groups of employees unwilling to work with their managers and elected officials, “deal with them,”

“I don’t know why we get lumped in with them,” she said.

She said contrary to what many seem to believe, public employees have also been hit by the recession. Washoe County, she said, has lost 500 employees in the past two years and remaining workers have taken concessions.

When the Legislature convenes, she said the issue will come up but that “I think we all need to be reasonable.”