One of the biggest costs at just about every level of local government across the state of Nevada is personnel. Over the years our lawmakers have made it difficult to control those costs by making public employee union collective bargaining practically a mandate.

Ending public employee unions entirely would be our first option, but short of that there are several steps that could be taken in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature.

First, end binding arbitration. Under current law the local elected officials make a union contract offer and the union makes its own demands. If the two sides reach an impasse, which is too often the case in this post-recession, tight-money period, some out-of-state paid arbitrator who has never paid a dime in Nevada taxes and never will be affected by his or her decision decides which of the two final offers to impose.

The arbitrator is not allowed to compromise between the two positions and frequently sides with higher union wage demands simply because the city or county or school district can “afford” it, whether it is fair and competitive with the private sector or not.

Eliminating binding arbitration could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Second, make the process transparent. Nevada Revised Statute 288 specifically states union negotiations or even informal discussions do not have to be open to the public. So they never are.

This means that the voters and taxpayers are left entirely in the dark and have no inkling as to whether their representative is fighting for their hard-earned money or rolling over for a belly scratch by public union officials who can provide cash and manpower come re-election time.

Private employers have the threat of being able to close up shop and go out of business. Public employers have no such option with which to bargain.

Such negotiations should open to the public under open meetings laws every step of the way, right down to the final public vote.

Lawmakers could cut and paste language from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model bill on this topic: “Labor negotiations between government and government employees are an extension of the people’s business. … Since those negotiations deal with the public employer and public employees, taxpayers have a vested interest in the proceedings. … Taxpayers deserve to observe, monitor, and even participate in the processes by which public contracts are negotiated and awarded.”

Third, public employee unions should collect their dues from their members and not have the government go to the trouble and expense of cutting a check to the unions for members’ dues. This makes the cost of union membership more obvious for the workers.

Finally, the public employees should be required periodically to vote on which union, if any, is to represent them in collective bargaining. Perhaps more than a few public employees would rather stand on their own merits and compete for pay and benefits rather than settle for the same pay as union-protected laggards.

None other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointed out in a 1937 letter the problem with collective bargaining for public employees:

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

We demand our lawmakers put each of these suggestions to a vote, especially ending public employee unions entirely, so the voters can see who is really representing them come next Election Day. — TM