Labor leaders endorse openness on union contracts, with a caveat

CARSON CITY – Local government union representatives said Friday they have no issue with the public posting of details of collective bargaining agreements before approval by elected officials, but they asked for the same level of transparency for other contract matters as well.

Senate Bill 158, introduced by the Senate Government Affairs Committee on behalf of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, would clarify in state law what collective bargaining agreements must be posted for public view. There was a proposed amendment to reduce the public disclosure time from 10 days to three days to conform with Nevada’s current open meeting law.

The documentation would be made public after ratification by a union, but before approval by elected officials.

“I think it is good policy to let the public know what the public body has agreed to before they actually sign the paper,” said committee Chairman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. “It’s all about transparency. I think the public has a right to know.”

The bill was endorsed by many transparency advocates, including the Nevada Press Association and the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

But Chris Collins, representing the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, supported an amendment to the bill to include the disclosure of information on individual employee contracts, as well.

He cited a January vote by the Clark County Commission to give County Manager Don Burnette a $50,000 raise. No rationale for the raise or no background information was made public, Collins said.

Rusty McAllister, representing the Professional Firefighters of Nevada, proposed amending the bill to require that.

“A lot of contracts done for local leaders never see the light of day,” he said. “We have no problem with the transparent part. But if we’re going to be transparent, lets be really transparent.”

A number of public employee unions supported the bill, if amended as McAllister suggested.

The committee also heard Senate Bill 168, which would establish in state law specific conditions that would allow reopening union contracts during a fiscal emergency.

Mary Walker, representing several Northern Nevada local governments, testified in support of the bill, saying the ability to reopen contracts could help governments avoid layoffs and service reductions. While most public unions are willing to renegotiate in times of emergency, not all have done so, she said.

Local government officials, including Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen, testified in support of clarifying the terms for reopening contracts.

Local government union officials opposed the bill in its current form, saying current law allows local government entities and unions to negotiate fiscal emergency language.

McAllister also offered an amendment to the bill, changing the trigger for an emergency to include a 10 percent reduction in tax collections compared to the prior year and an ending fund balance below 4 percent of actual expenditures from the prior year.

Goicoechea said if a local government must wait to address a crisis until revenues decline by 10 percent it would be far too late to avoid catastrophe.

The committee took no immediate action on either bill.

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