28th November 2023

The union representing 18,000 public school teachers in Clark County plans Monday to file a legal challenge to a Nevada law that prevents teachers from going on strike.

“What we’re challenging is a law that prohibits public employees, specifically teachers, from the right to strike,” John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said after a raucous rally Saturday in downtown Las Vegas for teachers.

“And we’re determined to have that case if need be go all the way to the (state) Supreme Court,” Vellardita said. “This arbitration process is outdated, takes way too long.”

The district declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the union last month, after 11 negotiation sessions failed to yield results.

The union will continue to go through legally-required arbitration with the Clark County School District Monday, but will also argue in court against the state law blocking public employees from striking. If the union wins on that, it would go to its membership and present them with the option of taking a vote to strike, Vellardita said.

Should the union approve a strike, “we would notify parents well in advance” and make arrangements with the school district “for food, for shelter and after school care” for students, he said.

The union’s announcement and demonstration Saturday was its latest tactic in a campaign to press the school district to sign a new labor contract centering on a 10 percent increase in teacher salaries the first year of the contract, followed by an 8 percent bump the second year, which the district has rejected.

It also comes a little more than three weeks after the state Supreme Court turned down the union’s appeal to halt a preliminary injunction that prevents strike activities — which are illegal under Nevada law — such as “rolling sickouts,” where some teachers call in sick at once. The school district alleged the union planned to stage sickouts at a number of local schools last month.

District officials have said they cannot support the level of an ongoing pay increase asked by the union and has offered a 9 percent salary increase in the first year of a new contract, a new salary schedule and $10,000 incentives for certain hard-to-fill positions, an offer that the teachers union declined to support.

The district released a brief statement in response Saturday.

“CCSD’s latest offer would increase licensed educator pay by 17.4 percent, nearly reaching CCEA’s initial demand,” the statement read. “The offer also maintained the other incentives to promote equity across the pay schedule.”

A district spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday about the planned legal challenge.

‘Zero excuses’

On Saturday morning, hundreds of teachers in blue CCEA T-shirts, some with small children and dogs, shouted slogans while holding signs and marching from Main Street east down Fremont Street. The march ended on a wide sidewalk outside the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse at 333 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, across from the old Foley Federal Building.

Metropolitan Police Department officers blocked the intersections of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont and Carson and Bridger avenues and halted traffic on both sides of the boulevard until the crowd made it to a stage set up for CCEA officials, politicians, student activists and others to speak in favor of the teachers’ quest for an upgraded contract.

The rallying educators directed their ire amid the monthslong labor dispute at Superintendent Jesus Jara and the district’s Board of Trustees.

“CCSD’s on fire, Jara is a liar,” went one shouted slogan, lead by a man with a bullhorn. Most marchers carried union signs saying “CC Educators Demand a New Contract” while others had homemade ones with statements such as “The Real Jesus would give teachers a pay raise.”

Chris Barnes, 47, a second grade teacher at Ollie Detwiler Elementary, said that the district places unfair demands on teachers to make changes to classroom curricula with little time to implement them.

“We’ve been asked to do more constantly, over and over, without any compensation,” Barnes said. “We feel like we’re very underappreciated. There is more on our plate every single day and it seems like we’re asked to maintain with the same type of pay. It’s very stressful.”

State Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, said that the bill she helped shepherd into law this year, SB 231, included $250 million earmarked for public educator pay raises, but the school district has not used the funds for Clark County.

“We made sure the money was there,” Cannizzaro said. “We made sure that not only were we investing in the largest education budget in state history but we were also setting aside funds for teachers. There are zero excuses as to why there is not a contract for teachers that pays them appropriately, period, end of story.”

Contact Jeff Burbank at [email protected] or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.