The intent of SB 158, currently being discussed in the Nevada Assembled Wisdom, is relatively apparent – make the provisions of collective bargaining agreements between local governments and teachers, firefighters, police and law enforcement personnel, etc. publicly available 10 days prior to the meeting during which the agreement is to be voted upon.
If I’m reading the current law correctly, such agreements must be part of a public meeting agenda, duly posted, and subject to all the rigmarole associated therewith. A copy of the “supporting material” available to the board or commission is also to be made available to the public. [NRS 288.153]. So, why SB 158? Time. From three working days prior to the hearing to “ten days before the date of the hearing.”
Superficially speaking this might allow for more time for public commentary and consideration of the agreement or master contract. Realistically speaking, there are very few interest groups which are enamored of plowing through contractual language and financials – the negotiating committees from labor and management, and the “anti-government” organizations which delight in microscopically examining supporting materials for clues to how “over-time is being abused,” or how “teachers are overpaid and underworked.”
SB 158 clearly gives the latter a few extra days to gather opponents of the collectively agreed upon contract prior to the hearing. School Board members and County Commissioners already know the contents – they’ve been scrutinizing them throughout the bargaining process. Members of union negotiation committees already know the contents – they, too, have been engaged in the same proposal, counter-proposal, amended proposal, process as their counterparts across the table.
The object is always that the employer (Commission or Board) will give the most they can without jeopardizing the priorities of the government entity, and the employees’ representatives will accept as little as they can without having to face a truly unpleasant mass meeting session with their membership. The bargaining process itself can be competitive without being combative. When things get combative there are ways out of the bind – mediation and arbitration. And, herein lies the problem with SB 158.
Let’s assume that both sides in a bargaining agreement between, say. the Firefighters and the City have been negotiating in good faith. The city has been forthcoming about its revenue projections, and the firefighters have been rational in their wage breakdowns. They discussed hours and working conditions along with other related matters in a rational way. They’ve avoided mediation and arbitration processes by agreeing to a collectively bargained contract. Now, we come to the question – why do opponents of the agreement need those extra days to round up their forces prior to the meeting?
- Is it that the opponents of the agreement don’t trust the negotiating team from the city, district, or county?
- Is it that the opponents of the agreement want to scuttle any deal which includes a modification of hours, adjustments in working conditions, or increases in pay?
- If the negotiations hit a hard patch, and mediation or arbitration has adjusted the proposed agreement, then do the opponents want to scuttle the decision of the mediator or arbiter?
If the “scuttle strategy” is in place and the anti-government types want extra time for their media releases, press conferences, and the like, then what we have is an instance of obstruction at a key moment – a moment in which the intentions of both sides (both labor and management) are questioned and if the strategy is successful they’re both back at the bargaining table – and not where they want to be, which is home for a nice evening with the families. In other, less delicate terms, Gridlock.
Public employee union representatives and members of school boards, city councils, and county commissions have donated countless hours of their own time to bargain these agreements. They’ve authored proposals, revised them, spoken to them, adjusted them, and agreed upon compromise positions, usually on their own time and their own resources. In this they should be praised – and should not be subjected to more organized (often professional) opposition which seeks to shoot down their efforts with shots below their Plimpsol Lines.
The burden of proof is on the proponents of SB 158 to demonstrate that the posting and publication of materials associated with the bargaining efforts of labor and management in the public arena, must allow for extra days for the processing and analysis of those materials – and NOT merely more time for the professional nay-sayers to advance their own narrow agendas.