Business says wage dispute board “unpredictable”


April 13th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Business groups say proposed changes in the Commission of Industrial Relations don’t go far enough.

At a hearing before the Business and Labor Committee, business groups proposed reforms to the state's labor dispute board

The Business and Labor Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on proposed changes to the Commission of Industrial Relations, which resolves wage disputes between public employers and employees. Cities have long complained the commission’s rulings are unpredictable. The proposal would spell out how the CIR should go about making wage comparisons. It would include private sector comparisons, encourage comparisons within Nebraska, and include pensions and health benefits. Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler praised what he called the most significant effort to reform the CIR in more than 40 years, and regretted that it might be overtaken by the national debate on public employee relations.

“Now, real reform has been offered, real reform is on the table, real reform will be before the body as a whole,” Beutler said. “Unfortunately, a frenzied national debate on the topic has overshadowed, and in a way overtaken, the local process, which as the Committee chair indicated began in time long before Wisconsin.”
Ken Mass, president of the state AFL-CIO, said labor is not happy with all parts of the compromise. And he said corporate greed, not public unions, are responsible for economic collapse.

Speaking for the Lincoln, Omaha, and state chambers of commerce, Tonn Ostergaard opposed the bill. He distributed a letter recommending various changes. But the letter concluded that even if the bill were improved, the process for resolving public sector disputes would remain broken. And Dave Nabity of the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector, a small business group, said the CIR should be abolished.

“There’s no question the politicians of Omaha put us in the position that we’re in. No question,” Nabity said. “I don’t blame the labor unions, they went for everything they could get, and the politicians gave it away. But the CIR keeps it there.”

Nabity particularly objected to a provision in the bill that says if the CIR finds total compensation for city employees is higher than for comparable employees elsewhere, it should be frozen for twice as long as it takes others to catch up. Nabity said cities need the ability to cut costs, not just freeze them.

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