In what is becoming a rite of spring, a compulsory public sector bargaining bill is once again on the table of the Assembly Government Affairs Committee this session. Versions of Assembly Bill 310 have been proposed for the past six years, with varying degrees of success. A.B. 310 would authorize collective bargaining for "persons employed by the State of Nevada, its boards, commissions, agencies and departments, the public employees’ retirement system, the University and Community College System of Nevada and any other employer that receives money from the state." (A.B. 310) Part-time employees and several positions in the state printing and micrographics division of the department of administration are excluded. The bill also creates a labor relations board specifically designed to deal with state employment disputes.
Compulsory public sector monopoly bargaining has created problems in several states and perhaps this is why it has never gained approval—despite many attempts—here in Nevada. Following is a closer look at the history of public sector bargaining nationally and in Nevada, along with some problems that accompany this policy.
President Kennedy signed an executive order in 1962 to promote unionism in the federal bureaucracy. Although based on the National Labor Relations Act, the executive order prohibited strikes and compulsory union membership. Before the executive order was issued, Wisconsin had already enacted bargaining legislation to cover employees of local governments. But the order triggered a series of public-sector monopoly bargaining laws in states like Michigan, New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, where unions traditionally played a large role in the political process. Many states allow public sector monopoly bargaining at different levels and variations, although 31 states specifically allow public sector bargaining for state employees.
In 1991, 1993 and 1995, bills were introduced regarding collective bargaining for all state of Nevada employees. Of the six bills introduced during this time, only one, A.B. 130 (proposed in 1991) received a vote. It passed the Assembly (31-10) and the Senate (14-6), but was vetoed by Governor Bob Miller. In the Governor’s veto message, he cited two major objections to the legislation. First, the possible cost of arbitration, which might occur if the negotiating parties do not reach an agreement, was not considered. This cost could greatly impact an agency’s budget, but was not taken into consideration by either money committee.
Second, the bill required the governor or a representative to negotiate with the union representatives over wages and benefits for employees. However, because the governor also must prepare a budget that balances the needs of the state, the "executive and legislative branch levels should be free of the collective bargaining process." With the second objection in mind, the current bill, if passed by both houses, will likely be vetoed again. A.B. 310 requires legislative approval of the collective bargaining agreements, again placing the legislative branch as the negotiator.
In addition to Miller’s two objections, there are additional problems encountered in other states. One problem with public-sector monopoly bargaining is cost. Either a new bureaucracy must be created to administer bargaining law, or an existing bureaucracy must be expanded. A.B. 310 creates a new bureaucracy – the board of labor relations for state employees. Also, the legislative or executive branch must be expanded to deal with new obligations. Public-sector monopoly bargaining also increases indirect costs by making responsible fiscal management difficult. For example, if an agency or department wants to make shifts in programs or manpower, it might be unable to make changes because of binding contracts agreed to in a bargaining session. Additionally, is a governmental executive might be forced to accept layoffs due to reductions in hours or modification of a pay scale that could not be legally accomplished.
Another problem is bargaining by its very nature promotes labor-management strife, not cooperation. A direct outcome of such strife is usually an increase in strike activity, whether legal or illegal. On a national average, there have been 1.34 public-sector strikes in states prior to passage of compulsory bargaining laws and an average of five strikes in the nine years after enactment, according to the National Right to Work Committee. Pennsylvania is a good example. There were 72 public-sector strikes in the state 12 years prior to passage of a public-sector monopoly bargaining law, and 767 in the nine years after its enactment.
Yet another problem is compulsory bargaining impedes the ability of government to consider all viewpoints in making a decision. It sets apart one single special interest and makes that entity equal in theory to the public good. For example, when a school board sits down to bargain with the teacher’s union, who represents the taxpayers? What about the parents and the students? The only influence they have is through school board members. (Incidentally, teachers, although public employees, have been granted special privilege by the state legislature to collectively bargain.)
A.B. 310 posses financial, administrative and unfair representation problems. But perhaps most importantly, public-sector employees provide vital services to citizens. These services would almost certainly be threatened by an increase in strikes or massive layoffs.
Erica Olsen is a research analyst at NPRI.