News Law and Policy

Nevada GOP’s Union ‘Reforms’ Designed to Weaken Workers’ Rights

Teddy Wilson

Nevada Republicans, after winning control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office in 2014, have pushed a far-right agenda that includes legislation to dismantle organized labor in the state.

Nevada Republicans, after winning control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office in 2014, have pushed a far-right agenda that includes legislation to dismantle organized labor in the state.

Union membership across the country has steadily declined in recent years, but union membership in Nevada has held steady. Unions in the state have been a powerful electoral force for Democrats, and diminishing that power would give Republicans a better chance of holding their new legislative majority. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has leveled similar policy attacks against unions after winning election in a state dominated by Democrats.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), during his State of the State address, said reforming collective bargaining would be on his administration’s policy agenda.

“I will also support legislation to enact true collective bargaining reform. … I asked the Legislature for a more balanced approach to contract negotiations,” Sandoval said. “I again stand ready to work with you to ensure that employee compensation is fair, but also recognizes the need for reform.”

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Since then, four bills curtailing collective bargaining and workers’ rights have been introduced in the state legislature, where Republicans hold an 11-10 senate advantage and a 25-17 house majority. More bills are expected to be introduced.

Republican supporters of the bills say they are not against collective bargaining, but that they’re only trying to protect taxpayers. “I’m not against unions,” GOP assembly member Jim Wheeler told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “People have a right to join, and they have a right to bargain. But if you are bargaining with my money, we need to know what is going on.”

The Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) is among the leading proponents of the legislation. The NPRI is a member of the State Policy Network, an organization of right-wing think tanks that promote model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). GOP-controlled legislatures often introduce this model legislation verbatim.

Many of the collective bargaining reforms in the bills introduced are similar to model legislation published by ALEC.

“Collective bargaining reforms are needed to bring government employee compensation in line with private sector wages,” Victor Joecks, executive vice president of NPRI, told the Las Vegas Sun. “Elected officials who have the courage to propose collective bargaining reforms are the real champions of working families.”

Labor leaders have voiced their opposition to the legislative proposals as attacks on unions. Danny Thompson, executive vice treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO, said during a press conference that the bills will be met with resistance from unions and the workers they represent.

“I want to put every public official in the state on notice today,” Thompson said. “The 200,000 people we represent aren’t going to stand on the sidelines.”

The four anti-union bills that have been introduced would make several changes to labor and collective bargaining laws in the state. While state employees are banned from unionizing, public employees for local governments and schools are allowed to join unions.

SB 158 would require local governments to make public details about their proposed contracts with unions at least ten days before the agreements came up for a vote. The proposals must be published online or be made available at the county or city clerk’s office, and include any supporting materials.

The bill is similar to model legislation drafted by ALEC dubbed the “Transparency and Accountability for Public Employee Bargaining Act.”

During a senate government affairs committee hearing on SB 158, committee chair Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) said that the law would allow time for the public to review the agreements, and offer a better opportunity for opponents of the contract to organize and voice their opinions.

“I think it is good policy to let the public know what the public body has agreed to before they actually sign the paper,” Goicoechea said, as reported the Review-Journal. “It’s all about transparency. I think the public has a right to know.”

Labor leaders said they would support the bill if it was amended to include a requirement that information pertaining to individual employee contracts would be disclosed to the public.

“A lot of contracts done for local leaders never see the light of day,” said Rusty McAllister, representing the Professional Firefighters of Nevada. “We have no problem with the transparent part. But if we’re going to be transparent, lets [sic] be really transparent.”

McAllister proposed amending the bill to requiring disclosure of individual contracts.

SB 193 would change the state laws regarding overtime pay. Under the legislation, workers who work more than 40 hours a week would be entitled to overtime, but it would remove the requirement for employers to pay overtime to workers who work more than eight hours in a 24-hour period.

During a senate commerce, labor, and energy committee hearing, supporters of the bill included small-business organizations, restaurant owners, and contractors, reported the Review-Journal. They said the bill was necessary because it gave them more flexibility with workers’ schedules to accommodate family and other needs.

Opponents of the bill said that it would expose workers to abuses by employers and raised concerns about worker safety. It was also noted that low-wage workers would be disproportionately affected by the bill.

During the hearing, representatives from labor organizations, including Jack Mallory of the Southern Nevada Builders and Construction Trades Council, criticized the motivations for the legislation. “Not everyone is a good employer,” Mallory said.

Another bill, SB 168, would establish the specific circumstances that would allow reopening union contracts during a “fiscal emergency.” The legislation defines a “fiscal emergency” as a decline by just 5 percent or more in tax collections compared to the prior year for a local government’s general fund.

The bill would eliminate the requirements that when a collective bargaining agreement is reopened, it must account for factors such as inflation, based on economic indicators like the Consumer Price Index.

AB 182 would ban local governments from providing union dues through deductions in employees’ salary. It would also ban local government employers from providing paid leave or paying any compensation to an employee for time spent in service to a union.

The bill would also ban school administrators and other employees in supervisory and administrative positions from membership in a union, and expands the definition of so-called “confidential employees” who are banned from union membership.

Also under the bill, local governments would be able to fire or lay off public employees not just “because of a lack of work or lack of money,” but “on the basis of any factors it deems appropriate, without regard to the seniority of those employees.”

It would also effectively ban raising the salaries of public employees absent a new collective bargaining agreement.

Assembly member Randy Kirner (R-Reno), the sponsor of AB 182, told the Review-Journal that despite its effect on labor, the legislation is not intended to weaken unions. “Speaking for myself, we don’t want to destroy the collective bargaining process,” Kirner said. “But we think there should be some changes, some reforms made. That’s the track I am personally going down.”

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