Top 10 labor reforms for 2015

Geoffrey Lawrence

Now that Nevada voters have granted them unified control of the legislature and governor’s mansion for the first time in 85 years, Republicans will have a historic opportunity in 2015 to enact policies that will mean better opportunities for Nevadans for generations to come.

Whether through better tax policy, an education policy for the 21st Century, or other reforms streamlining operations to provide better government services at lower cost, policymakers can lay a foundation for a future of statewide prosperity.

At the forefront of that last component will be changing the state’s collective-bargaining process for government workers in ways that hold union bosses accountable both to their own membership and to the taxpayers their members serve. 

For that reason, NPRI has identified the following Top 10 list of labor reforms that should be pursued in the upcoming legislative session.

1.      End compulsory collective bargaining.  Nevada’s first collective bargaining law, passed in 1965, explicitly prohibited collective bargaining at the state and local level for all employee classes.  For local governments, that law was reversed in 1969, imposing compulsory bargaining.  However, many states with government unions (e.g. Kansas) allow city councils or county commissions to elect whether they will bargain with unions.  It’s easy to argue that this more closely reflects the will of the populace, since residents will tend to vote for officials who represent their values—if residents value collective bargaining for government workers, it will continue.  In fact, in Texas, cities can only bargain with unions if the process is first approved in a municipal election.

2.      No public resources used for dues collection.  Payroll deductions of union dues use public resources for the exclusive benefit of a private group.  If unions truly provide value to their members, they should have no problem collecting dues on their own.

              (Related model legislation: Public Employee Paycheck Protection Act; Voluntary Contributions Paycheck Protection Act)

3.      Require unions to recertify periodically.  Most of Nevada’s public employees have never had the chance to vote on which union will represent them since these organization elections occurred decades before most employees entered the workforce.  This lack of accountability to members allows union bosses to become unresponsive to the needs of their own membership.  As purportedly democratic institutions, workers should gain a say over how they will be represented and which union will represent them.

              (Related model legislation: The Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act)

4.      Transparent collective bargaining.  Several states subject all collective bargaining procedures to both open-meetings and open-records laws (e.g. Idaho, Texas, Minnesota).  This helps to ensure that collective bargaining agreements more closely reflect community values.

              (Related model legislation: The Transparency and Accountability for Public Employee Bargaining Act)

5.      Eliminate “exclusive bargaining agent” language.  Most workers in private industry have the right to approach their employer and negotiate compensation individually or to hire their own representation.  However, government workers have lost this right and are forced into a compensation arrangement they might not like and over which they have little say.

              (Related model legislation: Public Employee Choice Act; Public Employee Freedom Act)

6.      Voter approval for CBAs.  Voter approval further ensures that CBAs reflect community values by giving the community itself a direct voice in the bargaining process with union leaders.  One possibility is to only require such approval when across-the-board raises exceed the rate of inflation.

7.      Release time reimbursement.  Release-time provisions essentially commit tax dollars to support the staffing of a private organization.  Unions should be required to reimburse cities and counties for time spent by employees solely on behalf of a union.

              (Related model legislation: Resolution on Release Time for Union Business; Prohibition on Paid Union Activity Release Time by Public Employees Act)

8.      Repeal prevailing wage laws.  Studies generally show that prevailing wage requirements inflate the cost of public construction by 10-15%.  This recognition has led ten states to repeal these laws in the past 25 years.

              (Related model legislation: Prevailing Wage Repeal Act)

9.      Eliminate binding arbitration. Arbitration leaves key spending positions for local governments far outside the reach of residents; often, arbitrators are not even residents of Nevada.  Several states with government unions either allow the legislative body within each jurisdiction to either unilaterally impose conditions where there are points of impasse or to follow a fact-finding mediation process with the recommendations submitted to the governor for ultimate determination.

              (Related model legislation: Resolution on Binding Arbitration for Public Employees)

10.     Heart and lung reform.  Nevada is the only state in the union that does not cap the manifestation period for the onset of conditions from these diseases (which are also the most common causes of death nationwide).  Most states do not have a “conclusive presumption” that these diseases result from the job, but even states that do (e.g. California) only extend these benefits if symptoms become apparent within 5 years of separation from employment.

While these proposals are certain to encounter resistance from union bosses, they simply make those union officials accountable to their own members and to the public those members serve.

No reason exists to suggest that collective bargaining, or unionization in general, is incompatible with these needed reforms.

Geoffrey Lawrence is the director of research and legislative affairs at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan, free-market think tank. For more, visit npri.org.