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May
2011
17

Hearing Chamber of Commerce Footsteps, Nebraska Gov. Threatens Veto of Labor Board Reform

Following new amendments put forth by various wings of Nebraska’s Chamber of Commerce, the state’s Republican Governor, Dave Heineman, threatened to veto a Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR) reform proposal that has been advanced through the “officially nonpartisan legislature” by Democratic State Senator Stephen Lathrop.

Omaha.com reports that there is some cross-partisan splitting on the issue, with some Republicans coming to Lathrop’s defense and giving the Democrat credit for working “very hard to bring the parties together on this.”

Omaha.com’s article also puts in laymen’s terms what is truly at stake with CIR reform:

The comments by Heineman, who rarely signals a veto in advance of a bill’s passage, came as representatives of the Omaha, Lincoln and state chambers of commerce unveiled a new batch of amendments to Legislative Bill 397.

The chambers’ proposal would make dramatic changes in the state’s current system of collective bargaining by public employee unions: It would shift the focus from reaching an “average wage” for such workers to allowing such compensation to fall within a range, from 85 percent to 115 percent of the prevailing wage.

Within that range, the CIR would no longer have power to rule on contract disputes — it would be up to labor unions and their employers to reach a decision.

If they could not, then workers would have to work under an existing labor contract — in effect, a wage freeze. However, a city council or school board could lower noncontract benefits, such as health insurance contributions or sick leave, as long as total compensation remained within the 85 percent to 115 percent range.

Omaha attorney David Kramer said the proposal puts elected officials in the driver’s seat in deciding contract disputes.

The CIR would issue rulings only in cases in which total compensation of public employees was way out of whack — below 85 percent for comparable employers or above 115 percent.

This morning, two large public employees’ unions spoke out against the newly proposed reform packaging:

Officials who represent state K-12 teachers and state employees said the new plan would “eviscerate” collective bargaining and force down public employees’ wages as much as 15 percent.

Karen Kilgarin, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska State Education Association, said the plan would put Nebraska at 49th in the nation in teachers’ salaries.

“Bottom of the barrel,” she said. “Is that really what the governor wants? It’s not what Nebraskans want. They want good teachers in the classroom.”

Julie Dake Abel, the head of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees-American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the business-generated proposal would turn public jobs into low-paying, “training” positions with workers gaining experience and quickly moving on to better-paying jobs elsewhere.

“It’s not like most public employees are overpaid,” Dake Abel said. “We have public employees who qualify for Medicaid.”

Read “Unions Blast CIR Reform” on Omaha.com.

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