Union yes! Non-union yes, too!

“The governor believes it would be ill-advised to begin a new legislative session by trying to undue (sic) past progress, some of which was passed with bipartisan support,” read a statement from Brian Sandoval’s office.

Well, Republicans shouldn’t have lost control of the Legislature then.

The governor’s statement was evidently in response to this passage in the opening day speech of Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford:

“We’ll take another look at last session’s extreme and unnecessary legislation that targeted the pocketbooks of working men and women by slashing wages for construction workers, limiting project-labor agreements, and attacking collective bargaining rights. To our friends in the labor movement, we heard you when you said, ‘Never Again,’ and we agree.”

In a paper published in December, Thomas Piketty et al found that “the bottom half of the income distribution in the United States has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s.” Nevada is not immune: Adjusted for inflation, median household income, the amount at which half households earn less and half earn more, was 16 percent smaller in 2015 than it was prior to the economic crash in 2007. In other words, even as Nevada’s economy has “recovered,” half of all working Nevadans have been losing ground.

The correlation between growing income inequality and the decimation of organized labor is cited frequently by researchers, and the “extreme and unnecessary” anti-labor legislation made possible by the even more extreme and unnecessary GOP control of the 2015 legislative session is something that Democrats and labor rightly want to, as the governor’s office put it, “undue.”

But an even more trenchant reason the bottom half of Nevada’s workforce has been losing ground is most of the positions that have opened up in Nevada since the crash are low-pay low-quality, and (Culinary notwithstanding) non-union service sectors jobs. Protecting construction wages or project-labor agreements does precious little if anything at all to help those working Nevadans.

Unions and their political allies are right to call for expanded collective bargaining rights for workers. But as David Rolf, the Seattle SEIU organizer who is probably more responsible than any single person for the Fight for $15 movement, acknowledges, as a practical matter, unionization of the U.S. service sector is not going to save the working class any time soon. And Rolf made that acknowledgment long before Trump was elected.

While unpacking our unhealthy obsession with education the other day, I tossed out some agenda items, a to-do list for your Nevada Legislature:

…raise the minimum wage, enact mandated sick pay, curb flex labor abuses, create affordable but well-paying, quality systems of child and elder care, expand public housing programs, expand public transportation programs, reform a justice system that hits the poor hardest, provide low-income people with financial service alternatives to predatory payday/title loan shops, and help Nevada families refinance student loans. For starters.

Ford highlighted, or at least mentioned, some of these items in his opening day speech, and others are expected to be addressed in the Democratic “blueprint,” details of which should be released shortly, presumably.

And yes, it is certainly not the governor’s agenda, and he has a veto pen.

But these are concrete measures that will help working Nevadans, the vast majority of whom are not in construction, not subject to government project-labor agreements, and not unionized public employees. And if Democrats want to turn voters out to the polls in two years and elect a governor for the first time this century, they need to present voters with something they’ve not been offered in this century: a clear and compelling Democratic agenda that can appeal to a broad cross-section of working people. Ford (himself a gubernatorial aspirant) & Co. should get started on that yesterday. And support from all of organized labor – not just the Culinary – should be unflinching.

Conceptually, it’s not an either/or between a broad working families agenda, on the one hand, and on the other, the mostly union-specific items in Ford’s speech that apparently triggered the governor. Whether it’s an either/or as a practical matter, in terms of Democratic legislative priorities, remains to be seen.

Meantime, it is worth noting that one piece of “past progress” that “passed with bipartisan support,” as the governor’s office might put it, was last fall’s public subsidy for a football field. Inasmuch as that abomination lingers on life support at all, it is solely because the state of Nevada continues to dangle $750 million in front of the noses of billionaires and bankers, a state of affairs that continues to demean and humiliate the state, and that was made possible by, among others, Ford and the AFL-CIO.

That, too, is something Democrats would be wise to “undue.”

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)