Heineman takes hard line against public employees

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman threatened to veto a bill that would change how public sector employees collectively bargain because the bill does not go far enough in restricting the the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Heineman announced yesterday that he supports a version of Commission of Industrial Relations reform backed by the Omaha, Lincoln and Nebraska chambers of commerce.  The business communities approach would preclude the CIR from intervening in wage disputes only if the proposed wages fell below 85 percent of the prevailing wage rate in the area. The prevailing wage rate takes into account private sector employees.  Public employer could also unilaterally change non-contract benefits under the proposal Henieman supports.

The proposal Henieman supports is response by business interests to LB 397. The legislature gave first round approval to LB 397 by a  a bill that would change how the Commission of Industrial Relations decides labor disputes between local governments and public sector unions. In Nebraska public sector unions do not have the the right to strike, but they have the ability to appeal collective bargaining disputes to the Commission of Industrial Relations. LB 397 would allow the CIR to compare wages to local private employers in disptues. Currently wages are compared to public sector wages in similar sized cities. Critics of the current CIR argue that Omaha and Lincoln are often compared to much larger metropolitan areas with higher costs of living. Another reform of LB 397 is to allow the CIR to take fringe benefits into account when determining wage level. Some public sector unions have criticized aspects of LB 397 as weakening their collective bargaining rights.

Heineman has hinted that he would support a ballot initiative in 2012 if the legislature failed to pass CIR reform that satisfies business interests.

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