Amendment offers compromise to CIR reform bill

Nebraska lawmakers say they've come up with a plan to restructure how public workers collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

It's sparked rallies across the nation, including here in Nebraska.  At issue, the Commission of Industrial Relations, or CIR, which works with government agencies and unions to solve labor disputes.

Now lawmakers say they have a plan to prevent problems they're seeing in Wisconsin and other states.  Senator Brad Ashford of Omaha says, “We can think together about solutions that are best for our state, for the people of Nebraska.  That's why we're not Wisconsin.”

They've come up with an amendment to the proposed CIR reform bill.  They say it does not abolish any bargaining practices but simply makes them easier for cities and unions.  Senator Dennis Utter introduced the amendment and says, “I don't see this bill as an endorsement for collective bargaining nor is it a condemnation of collective bargaining.”

All Senator Utter and a handful of others are saying is that it needs changing.  That's why he introduced a compromise between what union workers want with what the cities across the state say they need.

They say a more predictable approach will mean significant cost savings.  For that, they say stricter rules for the CIR to adhere by instead of leaving criteria for comparison up to the supreme court.  Also, compare not only wages but benefits in the public and private sector to other similar cities in Nebraska rather than all over the nation.  Senator Ashford says, “We are Nebraskans, we deal with issues like this as Nebraskans.  We're not from other states or some other place.  We are proud of our relationships that we have here.”

Senator Steve Lathrop from Omaha says this amendment will give credit where credit is due.  “Perhaps most importantly is, they wanted credit for the pensions that they have if they have a pension that's better that their contemporaries.  That hasn't been happening in the CIR and it will with this amendment.”

Julie Dake-Abel heads one of the state's largest unions, Nebraska Association of Public Employees.  She responded by saying they're not overly happy with any type of legislation. She thinks it's an indication they'll still lose some of their bargaining power.

The bill has advanced from committee and now up for general debate on the legislative floor.