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Teachers union files lawsuit seeking to overturn strike law

Updated October 9, 2023 - 7:09 pm

The Clark County Education Association filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to overturn the state’s longtime ban on public employee strikes.

The teachers union, which represents more than 16,000 licensed employees, filed the complaint in District Court against the state of Nevada and Clark County School District.

It is seeking a court declaration saying that five provisions under state law related to strikes are unconstitutional and invalid.

“This educational system cannot afford to continue to use an archaic law to resolve contract disputes that takes forever to come to conclusion,” said the association’s executive director, John Vellardita.

If teachers had the option to strike, he said, he thinks the contract dispute would have been resolved in a day or two.

It will be the fourth time in a decade that the district and teachers union have been to arbitration, Vellardita said.

“And every time we’ve gone to arbitration, it has taken a very long time,” he said, pointing to a process that in the past has taken anywhere from 10 months to 1½ years.

Not only do educators not have a contract, “but essentially, we lose a school year,” Vellardita said.

The school district said in a Monday statement that officials were evaluating the complaint filed by the union. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The court filing comes after a district judge declared last month that a teacher strike had occurred.

And the school district declared an impasse last month in collective bargaining with the union after 11 negotiation sessions since late March.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has requested information from the district about the status of the arbitration process but has not received details.

A tentative arbitrator has been selected, Vellardita said, but parties have to get a commitment about whether the case can be heard in a timely manner.

If hearings can’t begin as soon as possible — and no later than January — the parties will have to move on and select a new arbitrator, he said.

Challenging the state law

The last Nevada teacher strike was in 1969 and the state Legislature passed a law later that year prohibiting public employee strikes.

Those who violate the law can face steep penalties, including fines up to $50,000 each day for a union and up to $1,000 each day for union officers.

The 2021-23 collective bargaining agreement between the district and union also prohibits strikes, saying the union agrees that there will be “no strikes, stoppages of work or slowdown of the operations of the School District.”

Terms of the agreement remain in effect until a new one is reached.

Vellardita said the union thinks a court ruling would supersede what’s in the collective bargaining agreement.

The complaint for declaratory relief filed Monday says that state statute that prohibits public employee strikes “impermissibly impinges upon the fundamental rights of speech and association of CCEA and its members, is overbroad, void for vagueness, and is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.”

The complaint cites five specific sections under the law that the union seeks to have invalidated.

Sections are related to strikes being illegal, the definition of a strike, injunctive relief and punishments.

The union alleges that state law includes multiple definitions of “strike” and none of them “provide a person of ordinary intelligence appropriate notice of the conduct prohibited.”

It also lacks “specific enforcement standards,” according to court documents.

The complaint notes that the union is currently subject to a court injunction and would face “draconian penalties” in the event of a violation.

Vellardita said the union believes the case will be heard and most likely make its way to the Nevada Supreme Court.

If a judge rules in the union’s favor while the arbitration process is underway, the union could bring the option of a strike before its members, he said.

If the court rules against the union, it will pursue the topic during the 2025 state legislative session, Vellardita said.

He said he has been asked about harm caused to students if a teacher strike were to occur.

Harm is occurring right now because of high vacancy rates, including students without a licensed teacher, and how the contract dispute is taking a toll on teachers, Vellardita said.

Teacher strike ruling, school closures

Union members have held protests since July amid collective bargaining, including a march and rally Saturday in downtown Las Vegas.

Last month, a district judge ruled that a strike occurred and granted a school district request for a preliminary injunction. It came after eight schools closed for one day each because of unexpected staffing shortages.

In late Julybefore the school closures the district also filed a petition with the state’s Employee-Management Relations Board seeking to revoke the union’s bargaining agent status.

The union denied any involvement with the school closures and filed an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court.

The court denied a request for an emergency motion for a stay, but the appeal remains pending.

In a response last week to a Review-Journal inquiry from September, the school district said students at the eight campuses that were closed will have to make up that school day.

The district did not respond to a follow-up question about when that will occur. The school year calendar includes three contingency days: Nov. 22, April 26 and May 21.

The district also said the superintendent makes the decision about when to close a school.

As for whether there was discussion about deploying central office or other licensed personnel to affected schools, the district wrote: “All viable options are considered and utilized when possible.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on X.

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