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October 25, 2014

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Q&A: Nevada AFL-CIO head on taxes, Obamacare and the economy

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Steve Marcus

Danny Thompson, head of the state’s AFL-CIO, applauds a speaker during the Nevada State AFL-CIO convention at the Excalibur Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013.

Danny Thompson, leader of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, is calling for higher taxes on some Nevada businesses and is also criticizing Obamacare.

He says both of these stances would help workers, but they aren’t necessarily popular with unions’ usual political partners.

While Thompson often aligns with Democrats and served as a Democrat in the Nevada Legislature, the state AFL-CIO officially critiqued President Obama’s health care law this week, saying its unintended consequences could destroy union health plans and hurt workers.

And while Democrats in the Legislature have shied away from a tax proposal on the 2014 ballot, Thompson has thrown his support behind a bid by the Nevada State Education Association — the state teachers union — to persuade voters to approve a 2 percent business margins tax. Dubbed the Education Initiative, union leaders say it would raise about $800 million for education.

Thompson talked to the Neon Eden podcast, a joint production between KUNV 91.5 and the Sun, about what he sees as the benefits of the tax and the pitfalls in the president’s health care law:

Lots of people have said Las Vegas really has to diversify its economy if it wants to have a 21st century economy. If we’re talking about a new type of economy, how does labor fit into that picture?

There is no question that we have to diversify the economy. Every study I’ve seen says that you don’t diversify the economy unless you improve the education system in this state. That’s not me saying that. That’s every report that has ever been done.

It’s actually laughable when you talk about attracting the new high-tech jobs of the future when we have the lowest graduation rate in the nation. I mean, that’s a huge problem.

We need to improve our educational system in this state.

You’ve talked a lot about education in your position as head of the AFL-CIO. What’s your take on this Education Initiative, this 2-percent business margins tax that voters will vote on in 2014, that could bring a lot of money, almost $1 billion, into the education system?

There’s no question that education in Nevada is underfunded. You get what you pay for in that field, and we haven’t paid for it.

Today in Clark County, if you go to the average elementary school, they don’t get books. At least when my kids were in elementary school here, they got copies of worksheets out of a book, probably in violation of a copyright law.

As a community we’re going to have to fix that.

So you see this really down the road as something that will help organized labor?

I think anytime you grow the community it helps us because we’re very strong here and our intent is to grow with the community, and the problem here being there has not been that kind of growth that we’ve seen in other places where they do value education more than this state does.

At the (Nevada State AFL-CIO) conference you’ll host Sen. Harry Reid and Congressman Steven Horsford, among others. Why is organized labor so involved in the political process? What do you gain from that?

Whether it’s the city council, the county commission, the state Legislature or Congress, I mean, the decisions that those people make affect us all. Certainly for us, those decisions are impacting our members greatly. I mean, the Affordable Care Act is a prime example. We were told if we supported the Affordable Care Act then our Taft Hartley funds — those are union health plans that are not for profit — would be left intact. They’re joint labor-management trusts. We were told that if you liked the health insurance you had, then it would be left alone. Well, it hasn’t been left alone. In fact, this equity issue is huge for us. The money that will be collected to basically pay for the system will be collected on us to the tune of $63 per person in the fund and then we don’t qualify for any of the subsidies that a private person would qualify. We’re put in a situation where it will be tough to compete in that realm with for-profit companies.

You’re echoing comments of your counterpart in the Culinary Local 226, D Taylor, who had some pretty harsh words to say about Obamacare, that it basically creates a “perverse incentive” to dump workers on the health insurance exchanges, and later Sen. Harry Reid basically said that D was “exaggerating there.” Where do you come down on that?

I can tell you what it costs for me to insure the people who are in fund: anywhere from $10,000 to $18,000 depending on the plan to provide the health insurance per year. Then if the fine is a $2,000 fine (for not providing health insurance), even if it’s a $10,000 plan, you do the math on that. That becomes a business decision. So I don’t think there’s any question that it’s going to create those kinds of problems. You know, the other potential is that if you have part-time employees, then this thing doesn’t apply to you. I can only tell you what I’ve seen in other industries where if somebody wants to get out of full-time benefits, they move people to part time. One of our concerns is that people will be moved to a part-time basis to avoid coming under this law.

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