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Ken Edmonds, a developmental support tech at Desert Regional Center, reads a statement before filing for recognition as AFSCME with the Government Employee Management Relations Board in Las Vegas on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

State mental health and behavioral health workers will file for recognition of a collective bargaining unit Friday, the latest group of state employees to do so under a 2019 law that extended collective bargaining rights to more than 20,000 state workers. 

The group — which includes nurses, mental health technicians and pharmacy technicians among others — said it plans to file for recognition as part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union with the state Government Employee-Management Relations Board.

The filing comes as a result of a key campaign promise of Gov. Steve Sisolak made manifest by the Democratically-controlled Legislature during its 2019 session. SB 135, passed along party lines in the last days of the session, allows for up to 11 bargaining units to be formed for different classes of state employees, who may form unions and negotiate with the state starting in 2021. 

Even so, an amendment to the law added in the 11th-hour allows the governor to effectively disregard any negotiated salary increases “the governor deems appropriate.”

Collective bargaining has long been a white whale for organized labor in Nevada, with bills seeking to extend bargaining rights to state workers being regularly introduced — and defeated — over the last 50 years. Before 2019, only two such bills had been passed by the Legislature, and both were vetoed by the governor in 1991 and 2009.  

Sisolak staked his 2018 campaign for governor in part on a promise to finally extend collective bargaining rights to state employees, and the Democrat was buoyed by more than $3.7 million in spending from AFSCME political action committee. 

These workers will join state correctional officers, who became the first group of state employees to seek collective bargaining recognition in August.

Executive Assistant Marisu Romualdez Abellar stamps paperwork filed by state mental health and behavioral health care workers for recognition as AFSCME with the Government Employee Management Relations Board in Las Vegas on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
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