End employee unions’ power

If we have learned anything from the scandal surrounding the Clark County Fire Department, it’s that Nevada needs to reexamine its collective bargaining laws. From documented cases of abuse to rapidly unsustainable contracts, it is blindly optimistic at best to think these problems will just go away. However, these issues can’t be remedied until our government has some degree of flexibility and control over managing its workforce.

It is rather ironic that hundreds of public union employees chose President’s Day, a taxpayer-funded paid holiday to protest against projected pay cuts and legislation that could potentially reduce the union’s influence in Nevada.

The stakes for Nevada’s public sector employees are not completely known yet, but suffice it to say, the unions are none too pleased. One of the bills introduced by state Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, would prohibit giving worker’s seniority greater weight than job performance when considering layoffs.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, has also stepped into the fray with two bills aimed squarely at our current collective bargaining laws. The first is a law that will allow the state to reopen contracts when the state declares a fiscal emergency. The second law introduced by Roberson will identify a minimum of three points in the negotiating process when contract offers between the union and employers must be released to the public. There are many points of merit in all three of these pieces of legislation, and all three deserve to be heard, debated, and ultimately voted on.

It baffles me that we have to pass laws to say things like job performance should be more important that seniority, but that’s why these subjects are now up for debate. There is something wrong when we have to listen to how employees have condescended to negotiate their own paychecks, but this, too, is changing.

Public sector collective bargaining was once restricted to salary only and that restriction should be looked at once again. Salaries are highly visible, and it is much easier to keep them in line with national averages. Work rules, benefits and pensions are mostly invisible to the public, and their financial effects are much more complicated and systemic. Our current system is not functioning the way it should, and nothing should be kept from the table when times are as dire as these. Our state legislature owes it to us to do what’s right for every Nevadan, not just every state employed one.

Unions still have a place in our workforce, and the good they have done is measurable. Without them, many commonly accepted standards, like child labor laws, might not exist. But like everything, there must be checks and balances. The more firefighters call in sick and teachers walk out of the classroom like in Wisconsin, the more it becomes evident that union validity in the public sector should be discussed. Nevada must reevaluate not only these contracts, but also the thinking behind them.

We repeatedly hear that the unions are willing to negotiate, and they are willing to consider cuts, but perhaps it’s time for a paradigm shift. Is union representation still the best way to meet the needs of our public sector employees? If we remove them, what would we do then? There are some mighty strong voices on both sides of the union debate, and they had both better start producing some tangible solutions and making their case as to what’s best for the Silver State.

The fiscal crisis in this country has forced many an American to look honestly at the very real problems we are facing. During times of prosperity and success, it’s easy to not care about the fine print in some seemingly inconsequential union contract. Those times are gone. We have some tough choices to make.