Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Battle Is Joined on CIR

It's look like a serious effort to reform or abolish the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations is taking shape. I was surprised to see the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce endorse abolition. Click below for my statement at the hearing conducted by the Business & Labor Committee of the Nebraska Legislature.

Statement on Legislative Bill 564
Chip Maxwell for the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector
Business & Labor Committee of the Nebraska Legislature
February 7, 2011

Dear Mr. Chairman & Members of the Committee,

The Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector supports Senator Fulton’s effort to reform the procedure involving the Commission of Industrial Relations. The fundamental problem with the CIR is that it removes decision-making authority from local elected officials who should be accountable to their taxpaying constituents. Put another way, Omaha taxpayers are left at the mercy of unions and politicians in other cities and states. Deals made by politicians not accountable to Omaha taxpayers determine what Omaha taxpayers must pay their public employees. It’s an insidious form of taxation without representation.

The Alliance likes the way LB 564 shines a light on the facts and allows the public to effectively oversee the negotiating parties and judge whether they are being reasonable or unreasonable. Constituents can let their elected officials know what they think of a proposed contract and hold them accountable for it on the ballot.

If LB 564 or something like it cannot be advanced, then the Alliance would prefer to see the CIR system abolished, or at least an exemption granted for Omaha. We realize this would raise the specter of public employee strikes, especially unsettling in the case of police officers and fire fighters. We do not believe that either employees or politicians would want to be responsible for letting crimes or fires go unfought in their communities. Indeed, the risk of such a disastrous situation would be a disciplinary force driving all parties to an agreement at the local bargaining table where there is accountability to the local taxpayer. Such contracts must be presented in a public hearing prior to a vote on them, so the public would have the chance to evaluate the facts and the positions of negotiating parties – and ultimately hold their elected officials accountable. That would be preferable to the current system.

The current system is out of balance. It tilts too far in favor of unions, which can ignore the negotiating positions of local governments (and the fiscal realities they face), and instead rely on the numbers generated by the CIR’s analysis of comparable jurisdictions. That was one of the most frustrating things about serving on the Douglas County Board. In discussions of contract negotiations with public sector unions, the elephant in the room was the CIR. The fiscal authority of local elected officials is neutered. Deals made in other jurisdictions determine the fiscal burden of local taxpayers in Nebraska. This must stop.

The Alliance is not saying there is no value to the CIR. It is helpful to know what comparable jurisdictions are paying employees for comparable jobs. But in the current system, it’s all about the “comps.” Most of the debate is about which jurisdictions are comparable to the one at issue – rather than what level of compensation is justified by the fiscal realities facing local governments.

Treating the CIR as a court with binding authority over local fiscal policy is bad public policy. The buck needs to stop at the local negotiating table. LB 564 would allow that to happen.
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I told the committee that my beef is not with unions. They try for the best deals they can get under the existing rules. My beef is with a system that takes fiscal decisions away from locally elected officials and instead relies on a mathematical formula based on deals made by unions and politicians in other states.

1 comment:

OmaSteak said...

The CIR should be abolished. There is no "reform" which should be acceptable to taxpayers. It does open the possibility of cops or firemen going on strike. It also equally opens the possibility of a PATCO response...firing all striking union members and finally eliminating the union. That should be the goal of every elected official and any candidate that accepts public union campaign funds/support should never receive any voter support.