Proposed collective bargaining debated | RecordCourier.com

Proposed collective bargaining debated

by Geoff Dornan
gdornan@nevadaappeal.com

James Settelmeyer

Local governments say they need the ability to reopen collective bargaining agreements in times of fiscal emergencies.

But union officials told members of the Senate Government Affairs Committee SB168 goes too far and called for what firefighters spokesman Rusty McAllister termed "a more reasonable approach."

Sponsor Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said the 2011 session approved allowing the subject to be part of negotiations but few local governments have done so.

The bill would allow a local government to reopen a union agreement if there is a 5 percent drop in revenue in a year and exempt up to 25 percent of total budgeted spending from negotiation.

Mary Walker representing Western Nevada local governments including Carson City said the bill will reduce layoffs and reduce cuts in local services.

She said the current amount protected is 8.3 percent of expenditures, which is just one month's spending. The 25 percent she said is three months worth of the budget and would protect a local government from having to make major staff reductions and service cuts in a recession like the one Nevada is still emerging from.

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As for the 5 percent reduction in revenues, Walker said the recession saw local governments hit with upward of 20-30 percent reductions.

Asked why the measure was needed, Walker said most local government unions were willing to work with their governments to renegotiate contracts or accept cuts.

"But that's not true in all cases," she said.

Trey Abney of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce said the bill is for those situations when "if the world turns in a way that wasn't expected when the original contract was signed, this gives local government more flexibility."

And officials from several Nevada cities and counties testified the bill would be a valuable tool to help them through the impact of future recessions.

"We realize this bill is going to be processed in some fashion," said McAllister. "If we're going to process this bill, we would like to see a more reasonable approach instead of going off the end with extremes."

He said doubling the 8.3 percent of budget protected from negotiations to 16.6 percent might be reasonable but that taking it to 25 percent is not.

He said too many local governments "hide" money in a variety of funds designed to "artificially deflate revenues" so they can open up contracts.

"They create so many funds and they'll move money every day until it gets to the point where you can't track it," McAllister said.

Ron Dreher of the police unions said a good example would be the federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes money received in Lyon County where he's currently negotiating for deputies. But Chairman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, objected pointing out that's federal money and there's no guarantee it's going to come next year or the year after. He said you can't build a salary contract on money that may not be there next year.

Dreher said that money has been steady for five or six years.

"All we've ever asked them to do is prove you have a fiscal emergency," he said.

The committee took no action on SB168 with Goicoechea directing Settelmeyer and opponents including McAllister to work together and resolve some of their differences.

Goicoechea also took under consideration SB158 which would require a collective bargaining agreement be posted for the public to review 10 days before the local government acts on it. It would also require supporting documents and other materials become public.