By the time you read this article, the 2015 Nevada legislative session will have been ongoing for approximately one month. I don’t think anyone can say with certainty what will happen during this session. I do think it has the potential to be hard on public employees. Now don’t take this to mean that I believe sweeping changes are coming; however, expect that we will be in a fight to keep the benefits that we have earned. In case you have not been reading the Review-Journal over the past 10 years, or more specifically, over the past several weeks, the writers for that publication are not fans of public employees and are regular critics of the benefits provided to us under state law. The Review-Journal has published several articles about the reforms that their journalists believe need to be passed during this session. Generally speaking, I don’t worry too much about what the Review-Journal prints in the paper. I also believe that most people in Las Vegas who read the Review-Journal (as I do) do so because it is the only major paper in the valley. What is harder for me to understand is why the Republican Assembly Caucus hired Geoffrey Lawrence, who used to work at NPRI and has made a living out of bashing public employees. All I can promise you is that we will be at the session full time and will do everything in our power to make sure that you, as public employees, have a voice in Carson City and around the state.
Let’s talk about the potential changes that seem to be on the minds of most people. First is collective bargaining. There is a push to change the collective bargaining laws. A couple of things seem to be the focus of the discussion surrounding collective bargaining. Binding arbitration is one of the topics that appears to be a problem for the folks who want change. I, for one, don’t understand the concern with binding arbitration. Binding arbitration is simply a method in law that allows parties who reach an impasse at the negotiating table to have their dispute resolved by an outside arbitrator. Under the current law, the arbitrator’s decision is not appealable — in other words, it is binding. It is a winner-take-all option in which at the end of the hearing, the arbitrator selects one of the two parties’ “last best offers.” But because of this, both sides have to be reasonable and bargain in good faith. Let’s not forget that it in recent history, it seems the management teams from around Nevada have won their fair share of the arbitration decisions. The most important thing to remember is that many years ago, public unions gave up the right to strike in exchange for binding arbitration. If the legislators vote to take binding arbitration away from us, we should demand that our right to strike be given back to us. After all, if we can’t strike, and we have no binding arbitration, what do we have that will ensure that management will deal with us and bargain with us in good faith?
The next issue with collective bargaining is the never-ending push for “transparency.” Many seem to want negotiations conducted in an open public forum. I was not sure what this meant the first time I heard it, but I have come to understand that it means they want the taxpayers to participate in the process. If any of you have ever negotiated a contract, you know it is a long, slow process. I don’t think the public would sit through the hours and hours of meetings, but they might watch it on TV. Here in Las Vegas, both the City and the County own TV stations paid for by the public. If transparency is what they want, I say put the negotiation meetings on TV. I can tell you that the PPA has never made an offer or asked for something for our members that we would not want the public to see. I think you will find that the governmental bodies we negotiate with will more likely object to this, because they know that most unions do forensic audits of the books, and publicizing the process would open the audit up to public view. My guess is that there would be resistance on the part of the City and County to proceed in this manner.
The next big issue on the minds of some people is PERS. Again the Review-Journal and NPRI have sent the message to the public that the system is broken and needs radical change. The reports they cite, of course, support their position. What they don’t tell you and the readers of the R-J is that there have been just as many reports conducted by other organizations with no ties to Nevada PERS that have come to the conclusion that PERS is doing just fine. The reports that attempt to make PERS look bad in the eyes of the public forget to mention that public employees pay one-half of the total contribution to PERS over the course of their careers. Unfortunately, the PPA and those of us who sit on the PERS Board have no control over what others choose to print, so all we can do is ask is that the message be truthful P# 13221 and accurate, so that everyone can make an informed decision. I believe that if the public had all the facts, they would see that Nevada PERS is not the problem they have been told it is.
As I sit here writing this article and preparing to travel to Carson City to work on your behalf, I have to admit to being just a little scared. You all have given me the great honor to represent you for many years and in many different fights. Most of those fights involved important issues, but none as important as your right to collectively bargain and your right to protect your retirement benefits. I don’t want to let any of you down. I can promise you that I will work tirelessly and be in every fight. Some of these fights may trickle over into the next round of endorsements that we make and into the 2017 legislative session, and that will be fine with me. I will send out emails during the session for two reasons: to ask for your help and to keep you informed. Please contact me or the office if you have any questions about what is going on.
As always, be safe and fight the good fight.
Police Officer Mark Chaparian