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Vehicles travel on U.S. Route 95 south of Tonopah on Friday, Aug 11, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The Nevada Highway Patrol Association (NHPA) has filed to become the exclusive collective bargaining union for state employees who are Category I peace officers — a group that includes troopers, parole and probation officers, fire marshals, detectives, game wardens, park rangers, and university and capitol police.

The NHPA filed its petition with the Government Employee-Management Relations Board on Thursday, joining correctional officers and mental health workers who filed in August and September for collective bargaining rights, which were authorized for state workers by SB135 in June. The highway patrol has long struggled with recruitment and retention as higher-paying local police forces poach employees and pay higher wages.

“When we start the negotiation process, the state will see how the pay disparity is negatively impacting the sustainability of our police force,” NHPA President Matt Kaplan said in a press release announcing that the association had filed for bargaining status. “We believe pay parity and an improved working environment will create a cost savings for the state when you account for the training costs that are spent addressing our high employee turn-over rate.”

There were more than 11,000 Nevada Active Peace Officers in 2017, according to a report by the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. They also report salaries 20 to 35 percent below those of city and county police.

By negotiating higher wages, the NHPA said it hopes to address retention and morale issues while producing cost savings of $60,000 to $80,000 spent to train and prepare officers for the field, who often end up leaving for better paying jobs. According to NHPA, more than half of new officers leave within the first two years to work for higher compensation at a neighboring law enforcement agency.

Ultimately, the governor can ignore salary demands — a provision amended into SB135 as a way to ease some concerns that expanding bargaining rights to state employees would overstretch a state budget that has already struggled to deliver promised teacher raises. The amended bill also does not require the state to abide by the union’s requests for health insurance or retirement contributions. 

The NHPA said it is seeking to rename itself sometime in the next few months, to reflect its new members that include officers in the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada State Parks, and the Nevada System of Higher Education.

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