blank.gif (51 bytes) Rural Wrap

The Sacred Right to a
Unionized Government Job

by Dan Steninger

hat is the purpose of a state agency? Is it to provide a service that couldn't be provided by a private company? Or is it to keep a certain segment of the population well fed?

That question arose during legislative hearings over the privatization of the state agency that provides insurance to cover on-the-job injury costs. The state agency, which recently changed its name to Employers Insurance Company of Nevada, is in danger of going out of business because the 1995 legislature decided there was no reason for a state monopoly in the field of industrial-injury insurance.

Why it look legislators 85 years  to figure out of state shouldn't be in the insurance business, I don' know; suffice it to say they made the right decision--then cluttered up their success with provisions that private competition in this field would be phased in over time. Among the restrictions on private competitors is the requirement that they start out charging the same premiums as the state agency, with flexibility  to offer lower premiums to employers, who are required to buy such coverage, increasing until the restrictions end a few years down the road. At that point, presumably, we'd simply get rid of the state agency as an unnecessary expense.

Then, Governor Kenny Guinn proposed speeding up that process by getting rid of the state agency immediately through privatization. The reasoning is there are 600 people on the state payroll handling insurance claims at the same time a large number of private companies are lining up for the chance to do that work themselves. That appears to be pretty sound reasoning and, while I'm not familiar with the process of privatizing a state agency that has a $600 million "unfounded liability," that is, estimated payouts in excess of incoming premiums, reaction to the plan indicates it is, indeed, a good one.

Lining up in opposition to the privatization of this state agency during the recently completed legislative session were usual suspects Bob Gaghier, boss of the state employees' union, and Danny Thompson, lobbyist for the state AFL-CIO.

Gaghier, upon hearing that the state agency would be offering early retirement buyouts to agency employees nearing retirement and retraining and priority status for other state jobs, responded: "but what type of jobs?"

Most new job openings are for prison guards, he complained, and some of these paper shufflers might not want to guard prisoners.

Thompson chimed in that getting rid of a state agency is akin to "taking away the rights" of that agency's unionized government employees.

It will be interesting to see how this one comes out. Will state officials agree that, since there are no available openings on the state payroll for these employees, getting rid of the agency would be a violation of the right to a government job? Will they decide the top priority here is to keep union dues flowing into the bank accounts of the Nevada State Employees' Association, so it can hire more lobbyists to persuade legislators to take more money from taxpayers and give it to their members?

Perhaps they will do the right thing and stick to their guns by reaffirming their position that there are private companies available to handle this chore, that there's no reason for the state to be doing the same thing   and that there is no right belonging to state employees, once on the taxpayers' payroll, to stay there until legislators get around to paying them to go away early.

That this matter even came up for debate is a pretty sad commentary on how far we've sunk as a society. NJ

Dan Steninger (dsten@cyberhighway.net ) is editorial page editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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