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Chamber proposals all worthwhile

In the private sector, the Ghost of Christmas Future always shares the table at any collective bargaining negotiation, silently pointing a bony figure at the stark end that awaits both parties should they forget something called “the competition.”

But government is different. Should teachers or firefighters use collective bargaining to drive their pay and benefits to levels not sustainable by the taxpayers, where is the “natural predator” to bring them down to earth?

Who will eventually serve the bankruptcy papers and padlock the doors?

Once the public employee unions learned to funnel cash to and curry favors with their state lawmakers, no such market discipline was available. The taxpayers aren’t allowed to “stop paying for that fire department” (or “that public school system”) and use the power of the pocketbook to simply create a cheaper, more responsive one.

No less a liberal saint than Franklin Roosevelt wrote in a 1937 letter to the president of the National Federation of Public Employees, “All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” George Meany, former president of the AFL-CIO, agreed, saying in 1955, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

“George Meany was not alone,” comments James Sherk, the Bradley fellow in labor policy at the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation. “Up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government. But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result, unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests — at the expense of the common good.”

Nevada’s state workers do not enjoy collective bargaining rights, but their local counterparts do. And even minor reforms — opening government-employee contract negotiations and “first offers” to public scrutiny, eliminating the statutory requirement that an arbitrator must choose either the management or the labor offer, which usually means the latter — have trouble surviving in such union-friendly environs as Carson City.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce this year supported stand-alone bills — several sponsored by state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas — that would have eliminated binding arbitration for government employees other than firefighters and cops, as well as offering several other reforms aimed at decreasing payroll costs borne by taxpayers.

Democrats sealed up the stand-alone reforms and drowned them in vats of Malmsey.

Then it occurred to legislative Democrats that they may need to dangle a carrot if they hope to persuade a handful of Republicans to support their massive tax hike proposal. So the reforms have resurfaced, now introduced as an amendment to Senate Bill 98, which would require school districts and local government to report the estimated costs of new labor deals.

“It’s a bargaining chip,” explains Ronald Dreher, chief lobbyist for the Peace Officers Research Association, who fears Democrats may sacrifice some collective bargaining rights to win over a few GOP votes for their huge new tax hikes.

Should the government-employee collective bargaining reforms be enacted? Yes, they are steps in the right direction, even if some are quite modest.

Are these reforms radical enough to make them worth the price of raising and creating vast new state taxes that would likely never die? Not even close.

Furthermore, Republicans going for such a deal could easily find themselves in the same position as Charlie Brown, after Lucy once again pulls away the football. They could get the tax hikes — but not much real reduction in government pension and payroll costs in exchange.

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