Commission on Industrial Relations


Several bills have been introduced proposing various changes to the process used to collectively bargain with public employee unions in the setting of wages, benefits, and retirement. This has been an issue the Lincoln Chamber has raised on the state and local level several times the last several years, and we have in the past testified in support of changes aimed at making the process recognize and reflect more of a market-based approach. The CIR directly affects only public sector bargaining, but the outcomes of the process touch all Nebraska taxpayers in a very significant way.

The Lincoln Chamber recognizes this issue under our 2011 State Opportunities Agenda. “[I]t is imperative for budget sustainability and taxpayer fairness that state policymakers reform the system for determining fair, market-based public employee wages, benefits, and retirement packages. The Chamber urges local officials, their statewide organizations and state leaders to actively pursue reforms. Reforms are essential to create competitive state and local governments, and will position Nebraska on the leading edge of sustainable economic recovery and growth.”

LB 397

(Introduced by Sen. Lathrop)redefines a term in the Industrial Relations Act. The bill is proposed by the Chairman of the Business & Labor Committee – which has jurisdiction over CIR legislative issues. LB 397 is a “shell bill” and could be used as a vehicle for reform legislation and changes to bills resulting from legislative hearings and discussions. LB 397 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. This is not a substantive proposal; the Chamber will not testify.

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LB 482

(Introduced by Sen. Utter) is a compilation of several changes that have been developed in discussions between labor interests and the League of Nebraska Municipalities. These changes apply only to disputes involving municipalities. The proposed reforms relate to: jobs matches; defining what prevalent means with respect to any wage of benefit with an economic value; inclusion of all array members in the calculation of the mean and median; applying an adjustment to outstate employers based on the state median family income; defining comparability analysis as presumptively meaning in state public or private employers, and other issues. This bill likely will be modified further. LB 482 includes many changes in the process that may be helpful but they apply only to municipal employers/employees. LB 482 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. The Lincoln Chamber will offer testimony on this proposal. It is a substantive proposal resulting from efforts by the League of Municipalities, the Committee Chair, and labor representatives. It still needs to be expanded in our view, but it deserves support as a serious proposal that could serve as a beginning for meaningful reform.

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LB 555

(Introduced by Sen. Harms) amends the State Employees Collective Bargaining Act by eliminating Special Masters. Under LB 555, labor disputes not settled by January 10th would go directly to the CIR, rather than having the current step of the Special Master. LB 555 also lists factors for the CIR to consider when determining comparable wages. LB 555 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. We don’t view this as comprehensive and therefore, the Lincoln Chamber will not support.

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LB 564

(Introduced by Sen. Fulton) would eliminate provisions of the Industrial Relations Act and the State Employees Collective Bargaining Act. LB 564 puts in place a wholly new process referred to “last best offer”. This process would be new to Nebraska and would involve the Commission on Industrial Relations to provide fact-finding and recommend decisions or orders to resolve the industrial dispute. A governing body involved in an industrial dispute would have 30 days after the receipt of the CIR’s fact-finding and recommendations to accept or reject. If the dispute is not resolved when the existing agreement expires, the terms and conditions of the existing agreement must continue until a new agreement is executed, except that the terms must not include cost-of-living adjustments nor require payment of cost-of-living increases during a period prior to the new collective bargaining agreement. LB 564 appears to apply the new “last best offer” broadly to state employees and others covered by the Industrial Relations Act.

This seems to put more pressure on parties to bargain for reasonable terms. The ultimate responsibility appears to rest with the governing body, though both parties are obligated to bargain in good faith. LB 564 would change the role of the CIR fairly dramatically, though it would not eliminate it. LB 564 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. The Lincoln Chamber will offer testimony on this proposal. It is a substantive proposal resulting from efforts by Senator Fulton and others working to change the system. It deserves support as a serious proposal.

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LB 619

(Introduced by Sen. Larson) would exempt schools, learning communities, and educational service units from the Industrial Relations Act. This is a bill that is brought by the Nebraska School Boards Association. It would not apply the exemption comprehensively. LB 619 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. We don’t view this as comprehensive and therefore, the Lincoln Chamber will not support.

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LB 623

(Introduced by Sen. Lautenbaugh) would limit the CIR’s authority to set benefits for employees of Douglas County. LB 623 would bar the CIR from issuing orders about insurance and pension benefits for such employees. LB 623 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. We don’t view this as comprehensive and therefore, the Lincoln Chamber will not support.

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LB 624

(Introduced by Sen. Lautenbaugh) provides that the member classifications for the State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council would be combined into two classifications for patrol officers and the Nebraska State Patrol Human Resources division. LB 624 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. We don’t view this as comprehensive and therefore, the Lincoln Chamber will not support.

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LB 664

(Introduced by Sen. Nelson) would abolish the CIR, and ban public employees from going on strike or participating in a work slowdown. State and local governments would not be allowed to recognize public employee unions. LB 664 will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. The Lincoln Chamber will support for LB 664. It is a substantive proposal resulting from interest by Senator Nelson and other to dramatically change the status quo. We feel debate for meaningful reform should include consideration and support for this option as a serious proposal.

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LR 29 CA

(Introduced by Sen. Nelson) proposes a constitutional amendment to prohibit government from engaging in collective bargaining. This CA would have to be voted on by Nebraska voters. Individual governments would set wages and benefits much the same way they are set in the private sector, without the bureaucratic process of comparability. To be sure, state and local governments still would have strong incentive to pay competitive wages and benefits to keep good people employed. This might also open government up to more use of merit-based pay systems. Sen. Nelson has noted that other states – such as Virginia, Texas and North Carolina- already to not allow collective bargaining with government. LR 29 CA will be heard by the Business & Labor Committee on February 7th. The Lincoln Chamber will offer support for LR 29 CA. It is a substantive proposal resulting from interest by Senator Nelson and other to dramatically change the status quo. We feel debate for meaningful reform should include consideration and support for this option as a serious proposal.

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