Workers stiffed

Labor has bipartisan grudges

At the Nevada Legislature, lobbyists and reporters schmoozed while legislators met behind closed doors in the last few days of the session.

At the Nevada Legislature, lobbyists and reporters schmoozed while legislators met behind closed doors in the last few days of the session.


One group came out of the 2017 Nevada Legislature unhappy—working people.

“Not unhappy,” said one lobbyist. “They’re furious.”

OK, furious. And not just with Republicans.

“The Democrats kept dropping the ball,” said a Republican legislator. If he was taking some partisan satisfaction from the situation, he shouldn’t have. GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval and Republican Senate floor leader Michael Roberson are regarded as simply anti-labor. Roberson is warming up for a run for higher office.

Republicans like to tell themselves that labor unions don’t speak for real working people, and while it’s very true that private sector union membership has dropped into single digit percentages, that doesn’t mean that unions’ issues don’t resonate with non-union workers.

There is, however, a difference between labor’s unhappiness with the two parties. It considers the Democrats incompetent. It considers the Republicans malevolent.

Sparks Tribune columnist Andrew Barbano, who has many labor union sources, wrote last week, “Legislative Democrats threw their ATM under the bus in the 2017 Nevada legislative session. … Democratic leaders chirp about victories but mutter a ’there-there’ pat on the head to workers who got less than nothing.”

Barbano even suggests Nevada Democrats could face Democratic primary challenges if they don’t mend fences fast.

No one in labor is courting a public breach with the Democrats, but spokespeople privately make their distress clear. One labor leader said the Democrats managed considerably more deft maneuvers on behalf of other party constituencies than for labor.

“Women got what they wanted,” he said. “So did the LBGT community. But our bills were put on an assembly line.”

What he meant by that was that with bills dealing with some constituencies, the Democrats gamed timing and tactics, often forcing Republicans or the governor to deal with them, backing Republicans off or avoiding vetoes. For instance, late in the legislative session, the Democrats plucked the content out of a vetoed bill dealing with insulin and dropped it into another bill with a slight change, then sent it off to Sandoval a second time. This time he signed it.

But when labor complained about their bills, expecting party leaders to hold some bills for the closing days when they could be negotiated, the Democrats instead sent them straight to the governor, who vetoed them. Where, asked the unions, was the cleverness Democrats showed on other issues?

“They gave him [Sandoval] a reason to vote with them, but not on our bills,” said that same labor leader.

Sandoval has been freer with his veto than any other Nevada governor except his immediate predecessor, Jim Gibbons. But where Gibbons used the veto to stop bills he had neglected to watch during the session, Sandoval uses it to “micromanage,” as one legislative staffer described it.

“This is an unusual use for the veto,” she said.

Roberson’s alleged role is that he held Sandoval to promised vetoes of nearly all labor measures. If so, they were among his few victories—“the number one loser of the session,” one lobbyist called Roberson. In a June 13 essay in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Roberson wrote that Republicans “prevented every attempt to roll back our cost-saving reforms from 2015.” Many of the bills Sandoval vetoed would have undone bills from the 2015 session.

Labor-related measures vetoed by the governor include:

A.B. 175, clarifying the meaning of “health benefits” in the state constitutional minimum wage requirement.

A.B. 303, banning the use of commercial prisons by the State of Nevada.

A.B. 350, allowing worker organizations to be included in employee orientation.

A.B. 154 and S.B. 173, providing for payment of prevailing wages on some projects.

A.B. 271 and S.B. 356, dealing with collective bargaining.

S.B. 106, providing an increase in the state minimum wage.

S.B. 196, providing for employee sick leave.

S.B. 357, dealing with use of apprentices on public works projects.

S.B. 384, providing for confidentiality in some public worker pension records.

S.B. 397, dealing with penalties for gender-based discrimination.

S.B. 416, dealing with training and apprentices in medical marijuana dispensaries.

S.B. 427, dealing with size of railroad train crews.

S.B. 464, dealing with labor agreements in renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

S.B. 469, dealing with the percent of local government ending fund balances that is subject to collective bargaining.

On the other hand, the Nevada State Education Association—which often has different concerns from other unions—was pleased with the Democratic performance in shutting down a program that paid $5,000 grants to parents to take their children out of public schools. The Democrats ended the program by defunding it, all but daring Sandoval to veto the state budget. The governor decided he did not want to put the whole budget at risk, in spite of Roberson’s constant “No ESAs, no budget” threat. ESAs are “education savings accounts.”

Paradoxically, at a time when relations are tense between Democratic legislators and labor unions in Nevada, national unions are aiding Democrats in targeting Nevada’s GOP senator, Dean Heller, on his vote on the Republican health care measure.

The AFL-CIO began an ad campaign on June 23 in Nevada and four other states where senators’ votes appear to be up for grabs. The other four are Alaska, Maine, Ohio and West Virginia.

Rutgers labor studies professor Rebecca Kolins Givan told Bloomberg News that the AFL offensive could be particularly effective in Nevada because of the strength of the Culinary Union in the state.

“It’s become very politically active and highly mobilized,” Givan said.