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Nebraska – Activists Declare Victory for Working Middle Class

The right to collective bargaining for Nebraska public employees survived an assault by the right wing. The victory resulted from a deal between state lawmakers and union activists led by members of Nebraska Association of Public Employees (NAPE)/AFSCME Local 61.

NAPE laid the groundwork in conjunction with other public unions in Nebraska and the state AFL-CIO. “We held joint rallies in Omaha and Lincoln — throughout the winter and spring — in solidarity with our Wisconsin brothers and sisters, and built our own fight,” says NAPE Exec. Dir. Julie Dake Abel. “We built alliances with community organizations that also held rallies in support of public employees and collective bargaining.”

The threat came from business groups that wanted to change the system determining how wages are set, which had been based on comparisons with similar jobs in other communities. The business groups threatened to launch a ballot initiative to do away with collective bargaining for public employees unless lawmakers agreed to alter the process of computing how total compensation for workers is calculated, simplify the state’s dispute resolution process and make other changes.

Determined to preserve their collective bargaining rights, activists called their state senators, volunteered at phone banks, sent e-mails, lobbied their lawmakers personally and packed legislative hearing rooms until they overflowed.

Eventually, in a compromise, the state agreed to maintain collective bargaining. And the state agency that resolves disputes over wages would be limited in how much compensation it could order, and would have to consider pensions and other benefits when setting wages.

“We don’t like it but we support it,” says Abel, since it preserved collective bargaining “in the face of a business climate that wanted it repealed if a compromise could not be reached.”

With unions leading the way, she notes, traditionally conservative Nebraska “has been able to accomplish something that other states — labor-friendly ones — have not been able to do.”

Nebraskans thus avoided the destructive and patently unfair course taken by right-wing governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states where basic worker rights have been revoked or imperiled.

“We fought them trying to take away our union and our collective bargaining rights,” says Abel. “We were not for the taking.”

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