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January 29, 2015

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Similar budget woes prompt Nevada rallies

As Wisconsin workers protest, politicians and public workers here wonder if they will go down same road or try another way


Steve Marcus

Union electrician Vince Meamber attends a union rally at the Grant Sawyer Building Monday, Feb. 21. Nevada union members held rallies in Las Vegas and Carson City to show support for union workers in Wisconsin fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights.

Union Rally for Wisconsin

Hundreds of union members attend a rally at the Grant Sawyer Building Monday, February 21, 2011. Nevada union members held rallies in Las Vegas and Carson City to show their support for union workers in Wisconsin who are fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights. Launch slideshow »

Sun Coverage

Public employees rallied Monday in Las Vegas and Carson City in a show of solidarity with the Wisconsin government workers who have crowded the Midwest Capitol to protest proposals to roll back collective bargaining rights and limit pay increases.

The day invited comparisons between the two states, as Nevada Republicans promise to pursue changes to public employee compensation and bargaining rights similar to those being sought in Wisconsin.

For now, at least, Carson City is not Madison, in its level of support for unions or civic activism.

It’s not yet clear all that’s at stake for Silver State public employees. Lists of proposed changes to collective bargaining rights and compensation are beginning to circulate in the halls of the Legislature.

What is clear is that Nevada conservatives see this as their best chance in a generation to make changes to government pensions, health benefits and contract negotiating rules. And the issues promise to be a key bargaining chip for Republicans as Democratic lawmakers, who have typically been staunch supporters of the unions, desperately seek votes in support of a tax increase.

In Wisconsin, the Legislature is at a standstill over a proposal to scale back collective bargaining rights for public employees and tie raises to inflation, unless there’s a vote of the people. Tens of thousands of schoolteachers and public workers have camped out at the Capitol since last week to protest the proposed changes.

Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature are on the lam to prevent Republicans from reaching a quorum to hold a vote.

The Wisconsin protests have added a wrinkle to discussions of those issues in Carson City, as Republicans seek changes to negotiating rules — called Chapter 288 — and rules on things such as teacher tenure. Namely: What if conservative lawmakers went too far as they take on public employee unions?

“There will be a revolt in this state if they trade out collective bargaining for a tax increase,” said Danny Thompson, executive secretary of the Nevada AFL-CIO, which organized Monday’s rallies in Carson City and Las Vegas. “We’re talking about taking this fight to the street.”

But Republicans in the Legislature don’t appear cowed by the possibility, however remote, that their actions might spur similar unrest in Nevada. If anything, they seemed inspired to push harder.

“I frankly question whether collective bargaining for any government employee makes sense,” state Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said. “Some people in our state seem to think it’s a right. It’s not. It’s a privilege.”

The freshman senator had a copy of a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing Wisconsin public employees for trying to “intimidate lawmakers and disrupt Gov. Scott Walker’s plans.” Brower described Walker’s proposals in the same language as the conservative editorial page: “eminently reasonable,” “common sense,” “modest reforms.”

In 2009, Nevada Senate Republicans negotiated concessions on public employee benefits, pensions and collective bargaining. In exchange, enough Republicans voted for a temporary tax increase to meet the state’s two-thirds requirement and override Gov. Jim Gibbons’ veto.

Some business groups expect a similar situation this year. Only they have the more popular Gov. Brian Sandoval in their corner and more Republicans in the Senate and Assembly.

Other than saying they will pursue significant reform to public employee benefits and collective bargaining rights, Republican lawmakers have remained relatively quiet on the details of the changes they would like to see. Some would like to scale back or do away with teacher tenure.

“We need to put it on the table and take a good hard look at it,” Brower said of the various proposals circulating.

The two largest chambers of commerce differ on what to do about collective bargaining. The Las Vegas Chamber supports changing the rules.

“The chamber wants to look at local government pay and benefits, and bring those in line with other states, and hopefully the private sector,” spokeswoman Cara Roberts said.

Click to enlarge photo

Hundreds of union members attend a rally at the Grant Sawyer Building Monday, February 21, 2011. Nevada union members held rallies in Las Vegas and Carson City to show their support for union workers in Wisconsin who are fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights.

She took pains to say it didn’t want to “demonize” anyone and wanted to work with the unions.

Tray Abney, government relations director of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said “The chamber’s official position is 288 should not exist ... It doesn’t make sense that the people we elect have to go on hands and knees and beg unions for concessions.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, had little to say, other than joking he would take his caucus to Hawaii if it finds it’s in the position of having to flee the state to prevent a vote from taking place.

Sandoval also has declined to take up the fight on collective bargaining. He elected not to pursue Gibbons’ bill eliminating those rights entirely but has not stated his position on how the law should be softened.

Sandoval has, however, proposed state workers take a 5 percent pay cut to replace the monthly furlough days they have been required to take since 2009. He also wants teachers and other employees to contribute more toward retirement and health benefits.

The governor’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga, said that rather than choose sides Sandoval is positioning himself as a negotiator in the debate over collective bargaining rights.

“He is truly the guy in the middle here in this conversation,” Erquiaga said. “Most people predict collective bargaining will be part of the final closing deal on the budget. So it’s logical for the governor, the guy who has to negotiate all those deals, to be in the position of arbitrator and negotiator.”

For many of the state workers and their supporters rallying on Monday in Carson City, they believed that the burden of balancing the budget during the Great Recession is being unfairly placed on their shoulders.

“It wasn’t state workers, teachers, or firefighters who caused this” recession, said Darlene Cobbey, a retired private sector worker living in Silver City. “It was the big corporations and the banks.”

As teamster Dennis Miller put it at the rally in Carson City: “This fight is only beginning.”

Sun reporter Joe Schoenmann contributed to this story from Las Vegas.

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  1. Not all private sector union workers agree with the government variety. They are afterall, taxpayers too.

  2. My wife & I packed our bags, sold our business and moved away from Wisconsin nearly a quarter-century ago and relocated to LV. Madison, WI wasn't referred to as the "Berkeley of the Midwest" for no reason. WI was mess because of "Progressives" (really Communists) and their wacky ideas. Tommy Thompson was starting to make an inroad in getting rid of their business-busting rules & regulations and the welfare state, but, for us, it was too late. We'd had it with governmental interference in our affairs, the high rate of taxation, the indolent complaining that their welfare checks, food stamps and subsidized housing wasn't enough and, of course, winter. We, like 100s of 1,000s of others came west and found relief from all 4 maladies to a great extent. It's time the majority of WI residents revolted against the minority "Progressive" agenda which strangled real progress in WI for decades. "Progressives" are so enamored of socialism & Communism? Let the Garafalos, Baldwins, Striesands and their fellow travelers move to Cuba, China or North Korea. See how they enjoy living under totalitarian rule!

  3. Jerry, you are a living, breathing, caricature.

    Glad to see the troops out there, standing up for truth, justice, and the American way.

  4. The Republicants are doing what they do best, trying to destroy working people. They are not doing anything on getting jobs, just destroying the ones that are there. Their hidden agenda is showing it ugly head. Republicants are using this economic down turn to promote their agenda, what is amazing is the propaganda they are putting out in their scummy defense of their actions. Everybody must remember Bush caused this problem for some reason. Now he is wanted for international war crimes, just like Hitler would have been. Now we are dealing with the same hinchmen Hitler had, just with different names, and titles but they are trying to achieve the same goal. Ruin everyone that does not follow their lockstep agenda.

  5. Disclaimer: No "working people" were harmed in the passing of this BILL.

  6. I thought this was an anti-union state and that the citizens liked it that way. Why the dissent, all of a sudden?

  7. It is a tough position to be in because when you have a union and a private company, the private company can always declare bankruptcy if they are unable to reach a workable agreement and the company is in financial trouble. States are unable to do that at this time and so if overly generous deals are made, there is little recourse if the union does not want to negotiate. So, when you combine that with a system that doesn't promote long term fiscal responsibility on the part of the state, you can create serious problems. If you had good fiscal management at the state level, you could avoid these problems. Some of the states that have pension problems got there because they looked at a few good years of returns and changed the assumptions which in turn allowed increasing benefits. When those rates of return did not maintain that level, the system was suddenly underfunded. In this state, there was a large increase in revenue and in the span of a couple of years spending was also increased dramatically. In a responsible world, you would ramp up spending slowly as you became certain the revenues would hold steady. In that would you would also maintain a rainy day fund, but then most people do not seem to do that either. If we kept an eye fixed more on the long term, we would avoid many of the problems we now face.

  8. @LastThroes

    "Give the Koch brothers and their tea puppets credit.

    At a time of record unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies those far-right extremists have shifted the national dialogue away from ending the Bush Great Recession and getting people back to work, to blaming our troubles on labor unions and the lazy, no-good middle class.

    Quite a trick. Not even David Copperfield could pull that one off."

    The mind does boggle, LastThroes!
    How ever did we get the impression that Wall St., corporate greedsters, sham mortgages, big banks, credit default swaps, Bernie Madoff & his brotherhood of theives, overcooking the economy to OVERBOIL, conspired to bring down our free-market house of cards... but, yes, apparently it's those damn public servants and middle-class worker-bees that wrecked the whole thing, and we should HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE!!!
    Clearly, public servants, and the middle-class in general, must PAY!
    And apparently, they must pay with everything they have.
    & Yes, OBVIOUSLY, these evil unions are to blame for the collapse of the U.S. economy, and as such, should be responsible to make it right again.

  9. Since all of the states seem to have gotten into the same mess, even though they got there by different paths, this might be the time to try to figure out what all these states have in common. I think it is this: 1. All the states found it convenient to hire people and get them to work with promises of pensions. 2. Almost none of the states which bound themselves to deliver these pension benefits found it convenient to adequately fund them. Those that did found it convenient to balance their budgets by "borrowing" from their pension funds. 3. Now, with the states in financial crisis after years of imprudent and unsustainable spending, the states want to stop funding pensions and to use whatever assets are still in the pension plans to help close their budget deficits.

  10. The budget 'shortfall' in Wisconsin was manufactured just like the Iraq war, a war created for the purpose of spending America into debt in order to privatize Social security and destroy the rights of people to bargain collectively as a union.

    Privatize social security means sending your money to those who have NO legal obligation to pay it back - they can loose everything in a recession, your 30 years of savings is gone and 'get a job' will be the only reply.

    Free and easy money for the money managers, "Personal Responsibility" for those who work.