Benefits for being locked out?

Unionized workers might threaten to strike against an employer, but if a labor dispute reaches critical mass, they’d prefer a lockout over a strike anytime.

A lockout allows unions to cast management as the bad guys. On the picket line, signs that say “locked out” instead of “on strike” tend to elicit more sympathy.

For example, Las Vegas nurses represented by the Service Employees International Union voted to strike Desert Springs and Valley hospitals late last year. But the day before pickets were to begin, the union got behind politicians’ calls for a “cooling off” period and new mediated negotiations, even though the hospitals had already spent significant resources to bring in replacement workers.

Hospital executives, committed to their contingency plan and convinced that mediated talks would yield no progress after nearly a year of contentious negotiations, balked at the idea. So although the union never withdrew its notice of intent to strike, the resulting work stoppage was labeled a “lockout,” exposing the hospitals to criticism that they were deliberately turning up the heat on an already hot situation.

Now the Nevada Legislature wants to make lockouts even more beneficial to unhappy union workers. Assembly Bill 494 would allow locked-out union workers to collect unemployment benefits.

The bill has already passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly on a mostly party-line 28-14 vote. Last Friday, Nevada AFL-CIO chief Danny Thompson urged the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee to send the bill to the full Senate.

Mr. Thompson and other organized labor leaders are pitching AB494 under the disingenuous premise that all locked-out workers are unwitting victims of high-pressure negotiating tactics, and that they have nowhere to turn for assistance.

“You have to think of the repercussions for these families,” said Pat Sanderson, a lobbyist for the Laborers International Union. “If you lock these people out for a long time, they wind up losing their homes, their vehicles and their way to make a living.”

This argument assumes that no other jobs or sources of income are available to locked-out workers.

Unemployment insurance is meant to provide temporary assistance to workers who suffer an unexpected job loss. Lockouts are far from unexpected events. They are usually the culmination of months of fruitless negotiations. Union representatives who refuse to budge during contract talks — or who bargain in bad faith — do so at the behest of their rank and file.

And what of the losses corporations suffer as a result of lockouts? The Valley Health System received no subsidy from taxpayers for paying to import out-of-state replacement workers last year. Lockouts inevitably cost employers big bucks, too.

“These are terrible decisions that have to be made,” said Bob Ostrovsky of the Nevada Resort Association, which has no position on the bill. “They have huge implications for employers, customers, investors, and the health of your business.”

Aside from increasing demand on unemployment benefits, which would lead to higher taxes on businesses, this bill would tilt the balance of power in labor disputes too far in favor of workers. Nevada labor law does not need fixing. Unions are thriving in the Silver State, and last year’s dispute involving the nurses was an exception in an otherwise peaceful labor environment.

The Senate should leave AB494 to die.

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