People who want collective bargaining reform this legislative session need to take action.
The Nebraska Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee have scheduled a hearing for today, Wednesday, April 13.
Where: State Capitol, Room 2102
Subject: LB397 and the 64 page amendment to it, AM1116
Recommended Actions – make contacts, and if at all possible, spend some time at the hearing.
For those who can attend the hearing:
Note: There are likely going to be a lot of people in attendance. On February 7, the hearing room was full and there were many in an overflow room. Many groups on both sides of the issue have publicized the hearing.
If you have trouble finding the hearing room, go to an information desk, located in the center of the Capitol, for assistance
Ways to ensure the Committee members know that you attended and why:
- Be sure to fill out one of the available forms for those in attendance who are not testifying; this is the only official to note your attendance. In addition, the form provides a space for attendees to list support or opposition to a measure. These forms are available on the table near the hearing room entrance or are circulated in over flow rooms.
- Consider wearing some kind of Husker clothing item. On Tuesday, Linda discussed the idea with some other folks who were planning to attend. On February 7, a significant number of union members were present, wearing green t-shirts.
- FOLLOW UP soon after the hearing by making contacts with particular elected officials; we will make additional recommendations later today or tomorrow. If you would like to contact your Senator in person today, click HERE to locate their information. (Click HERE for contact information for the Business and Labor Committee members.)
For those who cannot attend the hearing:
- Look for information later today or tomorrow regarding making contacts with particular elected officials; if you wish to make any contacts earlier today, click HERE for contact information for Business and Labor Committee members, HERE for your Senator.
Background / review of the issue:
Many Nebraskans are demanding serious reform of the State’s collective bargaining laws due to the perpetually increasing costs of public employees’ compensation (wages and benefits). Reform should eliminate excuses given by local elected officials to explain those escalating costs. They often “give away the farm” in labor negotiations, then tell the public their hands are tied – by the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR).
What the Business and Labor Committee has passed out to the Unicameral floor, LB397, will do the opposite – increase spending on compensation, in some areas result in tax increases, increase the power of public employee unions, and ensure that local officials will continue to kick the can down the road.
There is little reason to believe at this point, that adequate opposition by legislators and the Governor will block LB397.
We have completed our analysis of AM1116, the 64 page amendment to LB397. The amendment is the product of a “working group” convened by Business and Labor Committee Chair, Senator Steve Lathrop, comprised of himself, Senator Brad Ashford, Senator Dennis Utter, labor union lawyers, lobbyists, and, it’s disappointing to report, one of Governor Heineman’s policy advisors. AM1116 makes the many existing problems with Nebraska’s collective bargaining statutes and the CIR, even worse.
Big Problems with AM1116…
- Hands MORE power to unions and the CIR.
- Those who crafted AM1116 state it will provide an improved system for determining public employee compensation, but the intricate scheme will do nothing to alleviate strain to budgets and is questionable as to its Constitutionality.
- By burying everyone in a 64 page morass of details, the “working group” appears to have inserted a number of trojan horses in this amendment.
Major trojan horses:
No Relief for Taxpayers EVEN IF Over-Compensation is Discovered
- Compensation levels are simply frozen until the amount paid to comparable employees increases to the inflated levels already being paid in Nebraska.
- Government entities could pay for excessively high compensation for years. Nebraska governments, and therefore, taxpayers, are held hostage by the CIR.
- The scheme for determining “comparable wages” is being touted as an improvement over current law, the actual improvements are few. In truth the tangled web of details appears to constrict the process significantly so as to favor the status quo and therefore, towards inflated compensation.
Troubling Implications for Private Employers and Nebraska Economy Through CIR Subpoena Power
- CIR has subpoena power. New provisions expand consideration of comparable compensation to include private employers. AM1116 may open the door for the CIR to subpoena private employers’ financial records.
- Likely will result in legal challenges. Compelling companies to expose their financial information against their will, to outside parties, is highly questionable. Taxpayers would absorb the costs of the legal defense.
Businesses could be materially damaged by having their financial records exposed to the CIR process, because:
- The CIR has the authority to share all information obtained in investigations, subpoenas, etc., to all parties to a dispute. There are no protections in the bill’s language to require confidentially.
- The CIR is a government entity and transparency is necessary, subpoened records may ultimately be made available to the general public.
- Private companies’ singled out by the CIR would be at a competitive disadvantage; the companies’ labor costs would be widely known.
- Companies not wishing to engage in legal battles to protect their financial information might determine it is best to take their business to a different state, which would result in jobs lost.
Police and Fire Fighter Unions – More Trouble on the Horizon
- Makes one aspect of staffing issues for fire fighters and police a mandatory subject of collective bargaining and allows for bargaining on other staffing issues.
- Hands police and fire fighter unions additional bargaining power and additional overall power.
- Increased staffing means less work for individual employees but increases union membership and dues revenue.
- Rather than police and fire chiefs making staffing determinations, labor unions will have the power to influence and the CIR will have the power to dictate staffing levels.
- Taxpayers will likely see increasing, not decreasing costs.
Teachers’ Unions and School District Lobbyists Show Their Influence, Get More Power
- Most of the positives for labor unions in the bill are directed towards school employees and are likely to increase spending.
- The most absurd provision (listed below) actually rewards failing schools.
- Fast-tracking of employees to permanent status
- Requiring bargaining on incentives for rural schools
Expanding Opportunities for Unions to Appeal – Will Extend the Whole Process
A number of provisions in AM1116 appear to create some new opportunities for lower-level decisions to be appealed and to create new levels. Under current law, both parties have to agree to certain appeals in the process. Under AM1116, just one of the parties may appeal.
MANY Problems with Procedure:
Business and Labor Committee Chair, Senator Steve Lathrop’s ties to unions and his choices in conducting the process this legislative session present many problems. The list below, comes from a prior article, written by Linda:
- Since at least 2008, the group that has most consistently supported Senator Lathrop, making up the largest percentage of his political donations as a group, is organized labor, including public sector unions.
- In spite of these facts, Senator Lathrop was ELECTED to the chairmanship of the Business and Labor Committee by the votes of his fellow state senators. And, get this: A supermajority of those fellow senators are Republican. Speaking as one of those Republican senator’s constituents, I thought you knew better. Guess I was wrong.
- Senator Lathrop introduced one of the nine bills that proposes to reform the CIR, LB397.
- LB397 is a “shell” bill. IT DOESN’T PROPOSE TO DO ANYTHING TO ALTER THE CIR. It’s merely an empty “shell” waiting to be filled.
- In spite of this fact, LB397 was one of the bills that was “heard” by the Committee on February 7th. During the time allotted to discussion of LB397, Senator Lathrop talked about a group of people representing “all sides” that he has convened over the last few months to come to an agreement about how best to reform the CIR.
- Senator Lathrop’s working group includes himself, representatives of the public sector unions, representatives of the elected officials at the municipal level, and their lawyers. Funny how “all parties” doesn’t seem to include the people who pay the tab — the taxpayers.
- Of course, because the working group’s discussions are ongoing, no specifics could be revealed at the hearing. And, because LB397 has already received its required “hearing,” there’s going to be no opportunity for public comment on the content of the bill, once content is eventually added. I guess we’ll just have to wait until they pass it so we can see what’s in it.
- Senator Lathrop has made it crystal clear that LB397 is THE bill that will make it out of his Committee. He’s also made it equally clear that LB694 and LR29CA, the two measures that would do away with collective bargaining by public sector employees in Nebraska, will decidedly NOT.