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State workers make case for collective bargaining bill, opponents cite taxpayer costs

CARSON CITY — State workers, some in tears, were joined by labor groups Friday to support a bill granting them collective bargaining rights, but the bill is opposed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and faces a likely veto if passed by the Democratic Legislature.

Senate Bill 486 would require the executive branch to negotiate with various employee classes on wages, benefits and other terms of employment.

Numerous state employees told members of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs how they struggle from paycheck to paycheck. Some qualify for public assistance.

“As state employees, we have collective begging,” said Michael Giurlani, representing the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Supporters of the bill argued state workers bore the brunt of hardship during the recession when their pay was cut and benefits slashed to balance the state budget. They also argued low pay costs the state money in the long run because many new hires leave after they are trained for higher-paying jobs at local governments or in the private sector.

Sandoval opposed

In a statement issued late Friday, Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said the governor “has great respect and appreciation for state employees and values their devotion to public service.”

She noted Sandoval’s budget this session includes raises and additional funding for employee and retiree health benefits, with no additional employee retirement contributions.

“SB486 would be a dramatic reversal of well-established public policy in Nevada,” St. Martin said. “The Governor and the Legislature have a constitutional responsibility to present a balanced budget and tying the hands of future administrations or legislatures with these agreements is not in the best interests of our state.

“For these reasons he will not support legislation that allows for collective bargaining for state employees.”

Two years ago, Sandoval’s budget included 3 percent raises for state workers, but most of that was eaten up by higher employee retirement contributions. State workers also have seen increases in health insurance premiums.

In his proposed budget for the upcoming biennium, Sandoval has proposed a 2 percent raise in each of the next two years. Correctional officers and information technology professions would get a pay grade increase amounting to a 5 percent bump.

The raises are projected to cost $38 million in 2018 and $62 million in 2019.

High turnover

High turnover has been a persistent problem for decades, particularly in law enforcement and at the Department of Corrections.

“I cannot tell you how many excellent employees we lost to other local entities,” said Marlene Lockhard, who served as chief of state to former Gov. Richard Bryan in the 1980s. “Passage of this bill will save the state money.”

Linda Williford, a 29-year state employee, broke down as she told committee members of living paycheck to paycheck.

“Help us. Help us,” she said through tears.


Tray Abney, representing the Las Vegas Metro and Reno-Sparks chambers of commerce, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying it would lead to uncontrolled costs for taxpayers.

“If you think you have budget problems now, imagine when SB486 is fully implemented,” he said.

Abney was sympathetic to cuts endured by state workers during the recession but added, “The private sector that produces all the tax revenue you folks spend here was devastated” as well.

“I understand the need for raises,” he said, “and it sounds like they do … but this certainly is not the way to go.”

That brought a response from Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, a former Sparks city councilwoman who recalled working with unions during the recession.

“What I saw at Sparks … the range of solutions, to be able to make those incredibly tough decisions, was broader,” she said.

“Collective bargaining isn’t going to be a magic solution,” she said, but will bring more voices to the table and lead to better solutions.

The bill was also opposed by the Nevada Taxpayers Association.

Peter Long, administrator for the Division of Human Resources, testified as neutral on the bill but noted it would come with costs. The division estimated it would cost about $1.2 million a year for a new unit to handle bargaining.

His office also projected that based on averages from a 2016 salary survey, it could cost $97 million.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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