Clark County teachers union files a petition to change law against strikes
The Clark County Education Association filed a petition on Thursday that would change a state law that makes it illegal for teachers and other public employees to go on strike.
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.
It’s illegal for teachers to go on strike in 37 states, including Nevada, and Washington, D.C.
CCEA’s initiative, if enacted, would exempt public school teachers from the state’s strike prohibition so they could have the right and ability to go on strike, according to a description of the petition shared with reporters at a Thursday press conference at North Las Vegas City Hall.
The union said the right to strike could shorten contract disputes between CCEA and the district. The union said its contract negotiations with the district have entered lengthy arbitration processes four times in the past 12 years.
“So we believe that this petition is going to allow educators to take that power back because currently that power lies in the employers’ hands and that leads to a very long arduous process to get a resolution,” said Jordan Wenger, a school psychologist.
Tam Lester, a teacher at Del Sol High School and member of CCEA’s executive board, said data from a recent poll commissioned by the teachers union shows more than 70 percent of respondents are in favor of allowing teachers to strike. The majority of those respondents said they would not be affected by a strike if one were to occur.
But Clark County School District (CCSD) Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a Thursday statement that the state’s anti-strike law exists to prevent “community chaos” and any adverse effects a teacher strike could have on families.
“We need more transparency, not chaos, in public sector negotiations,” Jara said. “Transparent public sector negotiations would benefit our teachers, students, and taxpayers rather than attempts to sow more discord.”
The petition is in addition to a lawsuit filed by the union last October before it settled on a new contract with the Clark County School District in December after about seven months of bitter negotiations.
The union has previously argued that the definition of a strike under state statute is overly broad, and “lacks specific enforcement standards, and encourages, authorizes, and fails to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”
The union said in a Wednesday release that it’s also asking state legislators to find legislative solutions to address issues it sees with the state’s arbitration laws.
“Should our efforts in the courts and Legislature not yield the desired results, we are confident that the voters of Nevada will stand with our educators,” CCEA said in its statement.
CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita suggested it’s possible that the petition could be withdrawn if the union can find an “alternative remedy” with lawmakers to resolve contract disputes more quickly.
During the 2021 legislative session, the union used two tax-hiking ballot initiatives as leverage to secure more mining tax revenue for schools. After a compromise was reached with lawmakers, CCEA moved to withdraw those petitions.
Wenger said the union is already discussing the idea of teachers strikes with lawmakers. She said some understand where they are coming from, while others are more concerned about the unintended consequences a strike could have.
The union has said if teachers were allowed to go on strike legally, it would take steps to mitigate those consequences.
In order to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot that proposes or repeals language for state law, a petitioner must obtain signatures from at least 10 percent of the voters in the previous general election. This means it needs at least 102,362 valid signatures from registered Nevada voters. At least 25,591 signatures would need to come from each of the state’s four congressional districts.
The deadline for submitting these signatures to the county clerk or registrar of voters for verification is Nov. 20.
Update: Jan. 11, 2024 at 5:34 p.m. — This story was updated to include information from a Thursday press conference by the Clark County Education Association and a comment from Clark County schools Superintendent Jesus Jara.