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COMMENTARY: Nevada state workers get a raw deal thanks to prohibition on collective bargaining

In an April 21 editorial, the Review-Journal condemned collective bargaining for state workers, calling it “an assault on taxpayers” and claiming that it will decrease education funding. In reality, the editorial was an assault on logic and fairness.

It is stunning that in this day and age — when we have the greatest levels of wealth and income inequality in our nation’s history — anyone would claim with a straight face that state employees are the reason our schools are running out of money. We have just witnessed a 30-year period during which the tax burden — nationally and here at home — has been shifted onto the backs of working men and woman who can afford it least. And that is exacerbated when it comes to state workers, many of whom earn less than a livable salary because they are legally prohibited from negotiating with their employer.

Collective bargaining is the vehicle that ensures working people have access to the American Dream — except for state workers, the men and women who keep Nevada running. Collective bargaining is the only way for people who work to have a real say in their futures and to achieve some dignity at their workplace. Corporations and the wealthy know that the right to stand together and build power in numbers is the only chance working people have to get a fair shake in a system they have rigged against us.

I am a public service worker, and I’m proud of the work I do. To suggest that we are responsible for decreasing education funding is disrespectful and absolutely incorrect. We will not tolerate being pitted against other workers and being scapegoated for problems that have not been created by us but are instead the result of a political and economic environment that looks to scapegoat us. Think I’m wrong? Go ask the teachers and school support staff in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.

The editorial’s assertion that the freedom of state workers to come together would diminish funding for our schools is frankly another cynical attempt to try to pit neighbor against neighbor. Ironically, this tactic is being used with increased frequency and is one of the many reasons why people are mobilizing politically like we have not seen in Nevada for quite some time. Hard-working Nevadans are tired of being blamed for our broken economy and our failing education system, and we intend to elect politicians who will fix it with more than a Band-Aid approach.

State workers such as myself want Nevada to be the state where all citizens, including state workers, have the freedom to make a decent living, where we can spend time with our families and live our lives in peace and have dignity on the job. State workers are the only employee class that, by state law, is prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining. That is simply not fair and not equitable. It is time for that legislative inequity to be addressed.

Harry Schiffman is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 4041 Nevada State Employees Union.

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