Special Report: Why Nevada Doesn't Have a Big Union Fight

Listen to the story

Special Report: Why Nevada Doesn't Have a Big Union Fight

100_0396

Brandon Rittiman/KUNR

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval delivers his first State of the State address.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is not pushing to end collective bargaining as some of his GOP counterparts are doing in other states, most notably Wisconsin.

In fact, he turned down a chance to pick up a bill this session filed by his predecessor Jim Gibbons that would have ended collective bargaining. That's Senate Bill 41 and it's expected to die a quiet death in the Nevada legislature.

KUNR News Director Brandon Rittiman looks at why we're not seeing this fight develop in Nevada.

In his state of the state address, Governor Brian Sandoval took just a short moment toward the end of his speech to talk about how unions could help with the budget shortfall.

SANDOVAL: "Collective bargaining must be reformed if we are to change the course on which we find ourselves."

But when he talks reform, he doesn't mean the same thing you hear from other governors.

First of all, rank and file state workers in Nevada(despite the presence of unions) don't have collective bargaining rights.

That means the state can simply cut their pay and benefits. And that's exactly what Governor Sandoval did in his budget.

SANDOVAL: "Salaries will be reduced by five percent."

Unions don't like that unilateral move. Vishnu Subramaniam is with the state workers' union.

SUBRAMANIAM: "If state workers had collective bargaining right now, we would be partners in the process and we would be able to sit down and negotiate and even provide better suggestions and be an active partner in the types of cuts, consolations that we can have."

So if state workers don't have collective bargaining, why would the governor even mention it?

Because negotiations have a big role in education.

Nevada teachers, along with local government workers are unionized and can negotiate for pay and benefits.

Dana Galvin heads the teacher's union in Washoe County.

GALVIN: "We're not going to go the way of Wisconsin."

Galvin thinks teachers are safer here because the Nevada legislature is controlled by democrats who are pro-union.

Sandoval wants teachers take a five percent pay cut- the same as state workers.

So unions either agree to that or Galvin says they'd face layoffs and larger class sizes.

GALVIN: "What I would prefer of course is that nobody would lose their job, but I don't know if that's going to happen. And that's the scariest part for me."

Governor Sandoval hasn't gone into great detail about his call for collective bargaining reforms and he turned down our requests to be interviewed for this story.

He has come out wanting to undo the policy of "last hired, first fired" when layoffs do happen.

He also wants to end teacher tenure.

Sandoval's fellow republicans in the Nevada legislature have an appetite for reform.

Senate minority leader Mike McGinness has a sour taste in his mouth from his own experience with collective bargaining. He used to serve on the Churchill County school board.

MCGINNESS: "I was actually on the negotiating committee for one year and then begged never to be on it again because I didn't like it."

It's not the actual bargaining that McGinness has a problem with. He has a problem with how it's done: in secret.

MCGINNESS: "We don't want to take workers' rights away totally, but just open it up and let everybody see how it's done."

Perhaps the biggest reason unions aren't as much of a target in Nevada: we're a right-to-work state.

That means no worker (public or private), can be forced to join a union to get a job.

Fred Lokken teaches political science at Truckee Meadows Community College.

He says other states are using collective bargaining as the opening gambit for that bigger issue.

LOKKEN: "They're trying to get to the point where Nevada already is. They want to move their states to the point of right-to-work and Nevada as many western states has been there for a number of years. And we're just not in the fight."

Lokken says states where the issue is hot right now could end up with even fewer rights for unions than Nevada already has, because they're taking on collective bargaining first.

As for Governor Sandoval, he's sticking to an agenda of fiscal conservatism that has more weight in Nevada, cutting the budget and promising not to raise taxes.

Democrats are certainly going to try and change those plans in the legislature, but how much remains to be seen.