weather icon Partly Cloudy

Chamber: Union rights for state workers could carry big price tag

Updated April 10, 2019 - 10:25 am

CARSON CITY — Pushing back on a bill to give state employees the right to engage in collective bargaining, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce has released a study saying the move could add $1.7 billion to the annual cost of state government in 20 years.

The chamber’s analysis comes as the bill in question faces its first vote by lawmakers. Senate Bill 135, the subject of a marathon four-hour committee hearing last week, is scheduled for a work session and possible vote Wednesday before the Senate Government Affairs Committee. If it passes, it would move to the Senate floor.

Chamber representatives testified against the bill last week, citing concerns that higher government spending for employees could shift resources away from other priorities, such as education. They also cited the potential impact on the broader state economy and on wages paid in the private sector.

Both Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Democratic majority in the Legislature have endorsed the move. Sisolak, in his first state of the state address and budget, pledged his support for collective bargaining and proposed 3 percent wage increases for state workers.

The chamber’s analysis, prepared by RCG Economics, a Las Vegas economic research firm, used regression analysis to determine future potential costs of collective bargaining, based on 55 years of historical data from all states and factoring in variables such as the effect of right-to-work laws, state personal income and which political party was in control of government.

High future costs

The study’s best estimate says if collective bargaining had been in effect starting in 2016, the annual growth in spending, in 2012 dollars, would be about $29 per capita per year.

In 2036, the cumulative per capita increase would be $579 to $596 higher per capita than in 2016. That equates to between $1.7 billion and $1.75 billion, based on a steady state population of just under 3 million. The per capita increase could be higher if the potential impact on local public employees is added to the result.

The report said the increase would stem from workers’ benefits such as insurance, paid time off or pensions rather than higher salaries or hiring more state workers “to satisfy growing demands by taxpayers.”

“This report shows that allowing collective bargaining for state employees would add significant new ongoing annual costs to the state budget and would likely take resources away from other important priorities including education, human services, public safety, infrastructure, and health care,” Hugh Anderson, chairman of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, said in a statement accompanying the report’s release.

Labor unions disagree

Union representatives pushed back on the study. In testimony at last week’s hearing, they noted that the pending bill only authorizes state workers to bargain collectively for wages and benefits but neither creates bargaining units nor sets labor agreements. Contracts would still be subject to negotiation by the executive branch and approval by the Legislature.

In an emailed statement, Harry Schiffman, an electrician at UNLV and president of AFSCME Local 4041, which represents about 17,000 state employees, said the chamber represented big-business interests and was “shopping a bogus study to deny state employees the opportunity to improve state services and advocate for their community.”

State employees in 28 states and the District of Columbia have collective bargaining rights. A review of federal government data on state employee wages and cost of living puts Nevada in the middle of state rankings for each category.

Census wage data shows that Nevada’s full-time state workers ranked 21st for average wages among states in 2013, falling to 26th in 2015 through 2017. Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis put the state’s cost of living in 2016 at 23rd overall among states, slightly below the national average.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Press Association lauds approval of public records bill

The Nevada Press Association recognized the efforts of several state lawmakers — state Sens. David Parks, Melanie Scheible, Ben Kieckhefer, Jason Frierson — and Gov. Steve Sisolak for their efforts in passing a bill to strengthen the state’s public records laws.