Police union challenged over settlement fee in North Las Vegas

Some North Las Vegas police supervisors have refused to pick up settlement payments because of a union fee they say isn’t legal.

Nonunion command staff say the police supervisors’ union could face a lawsuit in the wake of a decision to charge nonmembers to pick up recently negotiated city settlement checks.

The Police Supervisors Association — which represents four dozen member and nonmember police commanders in collective bargaining negotiations — won $143,000 in back pay as part of a long-awaited legal settlement reached with city leaders in May.

The union took more than $1,000 in “legal fees” off the top of checks owed to nonmembers last month, shaving more than one-third off the city-approved settlement total awarded to those command staffers.

None of the city’s seven nonunion police sergeants or lieutenants had picked up the checks as of Wednesday morning.

They say the decision to charge nonmembers for legal representation violates state and federal labor statutes and the union’s own bylaws.

They haven’t ruled out legal action.

“As members of the supervisors bargaining group, we expect fair representation from the NLVPSA when it comes to the (collective bargaining agreement),” nonunion supervisors wrote in a scathing June 9 letter to the union.

“We do not expect, nor will we tolerate, treatment based on arbitrary or discriminatory practices that the CBA, NLVPSA bylaws, state statute and federal statute prohibit.”

One nonunion supervisor, who declined to be identified fearing retribution, said none of the city’s other bargaining groups relies on nonmembers to pay down legal fees.

The supervisor could only think of one reason why some police command staff were being treated differently.

“It appears that (Cardinale) saw an opportunity to punish nonunion members, and he took it,” said the supervisor, referring to Police Supervisors Association President Leonard Cardinale. “What this comes down to is the line between right and wrong and what (the union) is doing is wrong. It’s not about attorney’s fees. … It’ll cost them more in attorney’s fees to pursue this legally.”

Longtime area labor attorney Jeffrey Allen agreed.

Allen, who represents hundreds of dues-paying beat cops in the North Las Vegas’ Police Officers Association, suspects the move could backfire on union leaders if it winds up in court.

“I don’t think it’s right, and I don’t think it’s lawful,” Allen said Tuesday. “It discriminates, or penalizes, nonunion members for not being in the union.

“I don’t think it’s a smart move, and I think they’ll lose if they’re challenged.”

Cardinale, the union boss who approved the move, said PSA attorneys spent weeks researching the legality of the legal fee charges before moving ahead with the union board-approved effort. The idea, he said, wasn’t to punish nonunion workers or reward union members but to make sure everyone shared equally in the price of legal representation.

He wasn’t surprised to hear that some nonunion police supervisors disagreed.

“This particular situation has never been tested, but the law says there are no free rides,” he said. “The motivation is fairness, it’s about treating everybody equally.”

The initial outcry over the move came just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to some public- sector unions on Monday, ruling against the Service Employees International Union’s power to charge nonmembers so-called “fair share” fees as part of the collective bargaining process.

The ruling was limited to “partial-public employees” and stopped short of barring union teachers, firefighters and police officers from passing along bargaining costs to nonmembers.

Nevada lawmakers and labor groups in the past have launched several attempts to overhaul the state’s position on fair share fees, each of which have fizzled out in the Legislature.

PSA attorney and state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he doesn’t need a law to build a case for forcing nonunion supervisors to share in union legal fees, explaining that Nevada’s high court has long since established a precedent for the move.

“Why would anyone belong to a union if they could just get a free pass?” Segerblom asked Wednesday. “I would say legally, (Cardinale) is well within his rights. … I think the (federal) Supreme Court decision is further proof that what he’s trying to do is correct.”

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.