Collectivist Bargaining

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, December 1, 2003

Nevada’s increasing stratification—into a privileged class of government employees above and a multitude of ignored taxpayers below—is no accident.

An engine is driving this process.

That engine is a coordinated but misguided set of public policies that became part of Nevada law in the late 1960s. Only now is their full impact being seen. And only now is the Nevada public learning how seriously at risk in the Silver State is government of and by the people.

One of those key policy changes that began in the late 1960s has been much discussed: the de facto abrogation by politically ambitious attorney generals of the Nevada Constitution’s separation-of-powers clause. This opened the door for executive branch employees to begin what became their eventual takeover of the state Assembly and, for many practical purposes, the entire state Legislature.

A second critically important change in Silver State public policy, however, has received virtually no attention. Yet it, also, struck radically and destructively at American principles of individual rights and the sovereignty of the people. And it does so to this day.

This policy change occurred with the 1969 Legislature’s passage into law of what was called the Dodge Act, imposing government unions on local government workers and, indeed, the citizens of Nevada. An entire new chapter of Nevada law, chapter 288, the legislation was also designated more officially as “the Local Government Employee-Management Relations Act.”

At the time, of course, many uncomprehending state lawmakers assumed they were doing the right thing. Union bosses and their political allies were hailing the proposal as “progressive” social policy that would also make local government more efficient. But the real reason the bosses liked the Dodge Act was that it made them virtual co-owners of local government. Not only did it give them great power over local government employees—union members or not—but it also gave them, as we’ve recently come to clearly see, powerful leverage over local government leaders and thus Nevada taxpayers.

To begin with, the Dodge Act made public sector bargaining compulsory in any city, county or school district where union bosses could round up a temporary governing-board majority. But it conspicuously failed to require the unions themselves to operate democratically, undergo any periodic recertification elections, or even represent the interest of the majority of workers.

The only protection allowed the employees—either union or non-union—was theoretical. A politically appointed board—the Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board—could call for new elections if it held that a majority of workers in a bargaining unit might not support the union. But that board was set up to remain dominated by the unions.

The Dodge Act placed government agency workers under the thumb of local union bosses by breaching the employees’ moral and constitutional rights to negotiate individual contracts. State law now prohibited these workers from representing themselves. Henceforth they were restricted to whatever wage- and working-condition packages the union bosses—with often distinctly different priorities—might negotiate.

For governments to deprive individuals of their rights to make contracts scarcely excites even the batting of an eye these days, seven decades after the National Labor Relations Act made this collectivist practice national policy in the private sector. Yet before the Roosevelt administration took this step in 1935, no industrial nations other than Fascist Italy had done so—unless the Communist Soviet Union of 1920 is classed as industrialized.

But even from the myopic standpoint of Nevada state government, the collectivist Dodge Act had other major problems. A big one was that it institutionalized in state law a monopoly arrangement well known for fostering inefficiency and waste.

Collective bargaining, after all, is bargaining by a limited-membership group that asserts the power of the picket line—with all the attendant threats of harassment and violence—to keep “outsiders” from making their own bargaining offers to the employer. In essence, therefore, collective bargaining is the asserted denial of these other prospective employees’ right to bargain by recent employees who claim for themselves a monopoly on this right.

Thus, in 1969 when the Legislature instituted mandatory collective bargaining for local governments, it deprived taxpayers’ elected representatives of access to the general marketplace of prospective employees. Instead, various established and politically connected labor monopolies were effectively imposed on Nevada’s cities, counties and school districts.

The results of the collectivist Dodge Act for the Silver State were foregone. The government-imposed monopolies brought what they always bring: higher prices and—within the protected monopoly—a distinct culture of arrogance.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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