Clark County Education Association challenges law prohibiting teacher strikes
The Clark County Education Association filed a complaint on Monday morning asking the court to declare five state statutes related to strikes unconstitutional.
In the filing, the union argued that five state statutes related to strikes violate its right to due process, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. CCEA also calls the definition of a strike under state statute overly broad, and said it “lacks specific enforcement standards, and encourages, authorizes, and fails to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”
The union, which represents 18,000 licensed educators in the state’s largest school district, said it would file the lawsuit Monday during a Saturday morning rally in downtown Las Vegas as it continues to fight to receive pay increases over the next two years.
“This is our moment to fight. This is our moment to take back what rights were taken away from us many many years ago,” said CCEA President Marie Neisess.
The Clark County School District (CCSD) said in a Monday statement it is aware of the complaint and evaluating next steps.
The lawsuit is the latest chapter in CCEA’s contract dispute with the Clark County School District, which started back in March and entered the arbitration stage last month when CCSD declared an impasse. It comes one month after a court approved an injunction ordering CCEA to direct its members to halt sickouts by teachers that were leading to school closures and a judge found constituted an illegal strike. CCEA denied involvement.
Under Nevada law, strikes by public employees including teachers are illegal. State law defines a strike as any concerted stoppage of work, slowdown or interruption of operations by public employees, including absences based on false pretenses, such as illness.
According to a briefing paper on strikes from the state's Employee-Management Relations Board, the 1969 law known as the Government Employee-Management Relations Act was passed as a way to resolve a walkout by CCSD teachers and came at the urging of Strip casino owners who felt their picketing was disrupting their businesses.
The law allowed for local government employees to be represented by employee organizations, which would be recognized by their government employers and which would have to bargain collectively with them. In return, part of the agreement struck was a prohibition on strikes by public sector employees. The act also created a structure to resolve disputes through fact-finding and arbitration.
In order for an employee organization to be recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent for a unit, the organization is required, among other things, to pledge in writing not to strike against the local government employer under any circumstances.
Consequences for violating the law include a fine of up to $50,000 per day to the organization; a fine of up to $1,000 per day for an organization's officer; imprisonment for contempt of court, and suspension, dismissal or pay deduction for any employee who participates in a strike.
After the rally, CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita told reporters the purpose of the lawsuit is to challenge the definition of strike in state law, which he called “ambiguous” and “loose” as well as the general prohibition on strikes by public employees including teachers.
He also called the arbitration process outdated. During a Monday phone interview, Vellardita said negotiations between CCSD and CCEA have gone to arbitration four times in the past decade and each time the process has taken longer than the previous time. He said the most recent session took a year and half to complete and, after an arbitrator ruled in favor of CCEA, CCSD contested the decision in court — which prolonged the process even further even though the court ultimately upheld the arbitrator’s decision.
“We're done with having to just accept a timeline that essentially will not show resolution before the school year basically is over,” he said. “Nobody wins when this dispute goes on and on and on.”
Vellardita said he felt the state’s definition of a strike was vague and subject to interpretation. He pointed to recent court proceedings where judges in two separate hearings had to decide if actions such as teachers only working the seven hours and 11 minutes required under their contract, or calling in sick as part of mass teacher absences that lead to one-day closures at some CCSD schools, constituted an illegal strike.
During an Aug. 22 hearing, Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Jessica Peterson denied CCSD’s request for an injunction against CCEA because she said she didn’t have enough evidence of an illegal strike. A few weeks later, another district court judge — Crystal Eller — ruled that the mass teacher absences constituted an illegal strike.
Vellardita said the union feels confident with its legal arguments, but getting a court to strike down the law and declare teacher strikes legal could be a heavier lift.
“We suspect a lower court may not want to touch it, and it may wind up with us going directly to the Nevada Supreme Court, which we're prepared to do,” he said.
If CCEA’s lawsuit is successful in changing those parts of the law, Vellardita said the ruling would also supercede an anti-strike provision in CCEA’s most recent contract with CCSD. If this happens before the arbitration decision is rendered, Vellardita said CCEA could ask its members if they would support going on strike as teachers across the country have done to negotiate for better wages.
If CCEA were to strike, he said the union would give parents prior notification and make arrangements with the school district to help mitigate any adverse consequences to students and families.
But if the challenge is not successful, Vellardita said the union will carry this issue into the 2025 legislative session and pursue a bill or ballot initiative to remove the prohibition on teacher strikes from state law.
Contract negotiation updates
Vellardita said CCEA’s demands during its contract negotiations with the district have not changed despite the district’s statement from Monday where it said the union was asking for a total increase of 19.875 percent for the next two years, higher than its previous demand of 18 percent. Vellardita said the additional 1.875 percent came from CCEA’s ongoing request for the district to cover an increase in licensed educators’ state retirement contributions.
CCEA has also been asking for:
- An additional $5,000 salary increase for all educators at certain schools with high numbers of vacancies and hard-to-fill positions
- A 5 percent increase for special education teachers
- An increase of 1.5 times a teacher’s salary for all hours worked after contract time and a salary increase for coaches
- That the district address class sizes
- A sick leave buy back proposal
- An increase in the district’s contribution to teacher health care costs
- Adjustments to teachers’ salary schedule.
In its Monday statement, CCSD said it is now offering a 17.4 percent pay increase for teachers over the next two years (a 9 percent increase in the first year, 3.3 percent increase in the second and additional 5.1 percent temporary increase paid with one time state funds). CCSD had previously offered a 2 percent increase in the second year.
The district said it also proposed a $10,000 bonus for certain special education teachers and teachers in hard-to-fill positions.
“CCSD’s latest offer would increase licensed educator pay by 17.4 percent, nearly reaching CCEA’s initial demand,” district officials said in a Saturday statement. “The offer also maintained the other incentives to promote equity across the pay schedule. The district hopes one would recognize CCSD's movement toward an agreement over the past three months.”
But Vellardita said what CCEA is asking for and what CCSD is offering still remain far apart by about $70 million.
The next step in the process is to determine the availability of an arbitrator, who was selected on Monday. Vellardita said if the arbitrator doesn’t have availability to start hearings soon, CCEA will request a new one.
“We are very skeptical that this process is going to be quick," he said. "We're trying to advocate for an expedited process, and so if an arbitrator isn't available, we'll be selecting another panel to choose one."
Updated Oct. 9, 2023, at 11:02 a.m. to include details on the complaint filed by the Clark County Education Association on Monday.
Update on Oct. 9, 2023 at 5:28 p.m. to include details from a follow up interview with John Vellardita and a new statement from the Clark County School District.
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