Nebraska Governor Attempts to Eradicate Unions and the Democratic Party

Nebraska Governor Attempts to Eradicate Unions and the Democratic Party

Shameless Republican and Private-Sector Attacks On Public Employees

     Though it's not nearly so well-publicized as the Republican attacks in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and elsewhere; Nebraska is facing its own crisis of democracy. Governor Dave Heineman has, through a number of Republican state senators and business leaders, called for the abolition of the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR). The CIR's function is to arbitrate public employee contract negotiations, should the negotiating union and school board or elected officials arrive at an impasse. The CIR dictates some kind of middlie-ground compromise between the negotiating entities, and both are bound to follow the decision.

     The issue here is simple. If the CIR is dissolved, public employees will be forced to take whatever offer comes across the table during contract negotiations. In other words, there will be no negotiation. Unions' primary purposes are to protect public employees from unfair compensation through negotiation representation, as well as to legally protect them from injustice in the workplace. Fully half of the union's purpose for existing will be gone if public employees are required by law to take whatever their administration or board deigns to give them. Without the CIR, collective bargaining becomes public employee pleading with no accountability on the other side of the table.

    To protect the policy-lever and fundamental purpose of the CIR, Nebraska Senator Steve Lathrop introduced Legislative Bill 139 (LB 139), which curbs some of the CIR's abilities and focuses the rest. It does this by redfining words like public employee, municipality, and so forth for the purpose of reducing some of the complexity of the process.

     I'd like to outline what LB 139 does NOT do. According to Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Nebraska chapter website, LB 139 does not reform the CIR significantly enough to save cost and protect elected officials ability to maintain their municipal budgets.I'd like to point out that on their website, they target the bill by highlighting issues unrelated to the LB 139's actual content.

     - It accuses school districts of being able to "increase their tax levy lid". The reality is that schools could already do this with a vote from their district residents. Nothing actually changed that in the bill.

     - They accused the bill of being the product of "back-room" dealing. This is strangely remeniscent of the National Republican Party's accusal of the Democrats Healthcare Reform bill. What they're not telling you is that the Republicans in the state senate held up the bill for so long that they were forced to make this decision. They make it sound even worse with the includion of "labor" lawyers, but any bill ever drafted includes lawyers in its drafting...again, nothing new here.

     - They accuse the bill of providing teachers at under-performing schools with a 20% pay raise. I have no idea where they got this . It is not part of the bill.

     - They complain that tax-funded employees wages are simply frozen, not lowered, if municipalities determine their budgets are too low. The make the statement that tax-funded employees remain overpaid until private sector employees catch up. This is perhaps the most asinine claim on AFP's lsit of complaints. The Nebraska Chambers of Commerce have backed the dissolution of the CIR from the beginning. They did a compensation comparison analysis, presuming it would support their assumption that public employees are overpaid. (Even reading that sounds moronic.) The results were that private sector employees doing comparable work in comparable municipalities are compensated 2% - 7% higher, on average, than public sector employees. When they got the results of this analysis they threw it out. Well, business leaders of Nebraska? I guess we know what happens when you "ass-u-me"...

    - AFP also states that the bill allows the CIR to subpeona private businesses salary and health benefits records to compare with public sector employees. God forbid public employees are paid comparably to private sector employees. It seems to me that Republicans and business leaders are more interested in indentured servitude than fair compensation.

     Seeing resistance to the actual dissolution of the CIR, the Chambers of Commerce and REpublican senators are now attempting to force the hand of the CIR via Legislative Amendments ot LB 139. They want to force the CIR to cut teachers' alaries 15% across the state (effectively lowering teacher compensation from 43rd in the nation to 49th) and to dictate a shallower pay scale to school districts. It even attempts to make teachers hourly, rather than salaried! This is by far the most damaging effort by private business toward the common good.

     In the midst of all of this, what is not being said in Nebraska is the REAL reason Republicans and business leaders are attacking the CIR so aggressively. The CIR has been used in arbitration nine times in the last eight years. That's statewide. The idea that the CIR's judgements are damaging to municipal and school district budgets is ludicrous. The commission is hardly even used as a lever. However, if the CIR is dissolved or made inept, the unions will lose much of their membership along with their ability to negotiate substantively. When unions lose members they lose power. What these Governor Heinemann, Senator Smith, and Nebraska buisness leaders are really attempting to do is to weaken public employee unions. Unions are the largest campaign donors and backers of Democratic candidates in Nebraska, and without strong public unions Democratic candidates will struggle to compete in elections.

     This is another example of Republicans', and their private-sector financiers', sustained attacks on labor unions and organizations. Attempting to legislate away public employees' rights and compensation is a gross perversion of the democratic process and anyone participating in this should be ashamed. This is not a financial issue, as much as they'd like you to believe it is. This is an attempt to remove the Democratic Party's powerbase, and create a political monopoly; a regime by any other word.