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Unions and Republicans ready for confrontation

The head of the Nevada AFL-CIO proclaimed Tuesday that “working families are under attack” by Republican lawmakers who want to weaken collective bargaining laws and pensions now that they control the Legislature.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the organization, told supporters at the Teamsters Local 14 union hall that the designated GOP Assembly speaker, John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, had sent a letter to local governments soliciting ideas for changes in public employee collective bargaining — the workers’ right to negotiate pay and benefits.

Thompson, a former assemblyman, said he’s been watching the Legislature for some 35 years and he had never seen such an offer, which he characterized as an open declaration that unions and their families would be under assault.

“It’s as if they declared war on working families,” Thompson said, speaking to more than 50 workers and union leaders. “The attack on collective bargaining is evidently coming.”

In response, Thompson said the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions, which account for some 200,000 members, plans to send a more robust lobbying team to Carson City and to have workers urge voters to support union members in the battle.

“Our 200,000 members won’t stand idly by this legislative session,” Thompson said.

Lawmakers instead should focus on big issues such as the state’s dismal education system to its outdated tax system that isn’t keeping up with state revenue needs, Thompson said.

“We’d like the Nevada Legislature to focus on the real problems facing Nevada instead of attacking working families,” he said.

Republicans on Nov. 4 won control of the Assembly for the first time in several decades, winning 25 seats to 17 for Democrats. The GOP also retook control of the state Senate with an 11-10 seat advantage.

In previous sessions, majority Democrats, who have long sided with the unions on collective bargaining, blocked any reforms and most changes to how pensions are funded and managed.

Thompson said he and other union leaders also plan to lobby Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has expressed general support for collective bargaining reform but hasn’t put out any specific proposals.

So far, four bill drafts have been requested by four Republican lawmakers and any one of the legislative proposals could become a vehicle for something Sandoval could support.

Two of the bill drafts, from Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, seek more transparency in the collective bargaining process. Wheeler’s bill goes further, proposing to subject contract negotiations to the state open meeting law. Goicoechea’s bill would require any contracts negotiated behind closed doors to be made available for public review before being voted on by local government-elected officials.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, wants to establish a definition of what constitutes a fiscal emergency for a local government. Determining a fiscal emergency exists allows agreements to be reopened so that government officials and union leaders can jointly respond to a budget shortfall, but there is no clear definition of what constitutes such an event, he said.

Now, if a union disagrees that there is a fiscal crisis, elected officials are forced to impose layoffs or take other drastic actions rather than work collaboratively to address the concerns, Settelmeyer said.

Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, is requesting the most comprehensive measure. It would clarify rules that exclude supervisors from collective bargaining, prohibit using government funds to pay employees engaged in union activities, require employees to seek union deductions before they would be collected by a government entity and make agreements retroactive to the date of the expiration of the previous contract. It also would require a final contract offer to be made public.

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