Labor negotiation reform moves ahead


March 30th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – A proposal to change the Commission on Industrial relations that could freeze wages for city employees in Nebraska is headed for debate in the Legislature.

Nebraska lawmakers say the Commission of Industrial Relations' rulings are too unpredictable (Photo credit Wikimedia)

After long negotiations, the Business and Labor Committee has advanced a proposal to reform the Commission of Industrial Relations, or CIR. That’s the body that determines wages for public employees, if the employees and the government unit they work for can’t agree. It does that by comparing the wages paid to other employees who perform similar work. Nebraska cities have long complained that the commission’s rulings are unpredictable. The new proposal would put into law details of how the commission should choose groups of employees, known as the array, for comparison. It also says comparisons should include not only wages, but also pension and health care benefits. Business and Labor Chairman Senator Steve Lathrop said including those benefits could save cities money.

“Some of the cities have indicated that when that process takes place they expect that some of the bargaining units will actually be doing better than the array,” he said, “in which case, their wages are frozen for two times as long as it takes for the array, or their contemporaries, to catch up with them.”

Lathrop said cities can also negotiate a change in their insurance or pension, “which brings their hourly rate value back down in line with their contemporaries.”

League of Nebraska Municipalities Executive Director Lynn Rex said cities support the proposal. Lathrop said labor representatives had threatened to quit the negotiations at one point, but Julie Erickson, a lobbyist for the NAPE/AFSCME public employees union said the union also supports the compromise. However, a spokeswoman for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which has talked about a petition drive to abolish the CIR, said that group needs to study the bill before saying if it is satisfied.

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