The Clark County Education Association is preparing to challenge a 1969 law that makes it illegal for public school teachers to strike amid ongoing contract tensions with the district.
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 promised 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, and said it takes “way too long.” Previous sessions have taken anywhere from 10 months to a year and half to complete the arbitration process.
“By the time we get a decision, this school year will be done … and it’s going to roll into affecting recruiting for next school year,” he said.
If CCEA’s lawsuit is successful in changing those parts of the law 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.
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.”